Despite record rainfall and catastrophic flooding in 2016, EBR planners encourage development on recently flooded landscape
by Len Bahr, Ph.D.
On New Year’s Day the advocate.com published an article by Grace Toohey on Louisiana’s record-smashing 90.54 inch cumulative rainfall in 2016, despite an unprecedented drought throughout the month of October. In researching her article she interviewed state climatologist Barry Keim and National Weather Service meteorologist Alek Krautmann, both of whom blamed the precipitation record on the 2016 El Nino phenomenon but would not relate it to climate change. “I think I would attribute it to dumb luck,” Keim said, adding, without a trace of irony, that “Weather is just unpredictable.”
Blaming the rainfall record on El Nino rather than climate change is a distinction without a difference.
For example, consider this peer reviewed 2014 report in natureclimatechange.com by 14 co-authors that links the increasing frequency of severe El Nino Pacific Ocean warming occurrences since 1982 to global greenhouse warming.
Here’s the abstract of the paper, which was published two years before the 2016 season:
El Niño events are a prominent feature of climate variability with global climatic impacts. The 1997/98 episode, often referred to as ‘the climate event of the twentieth century’ and the 1982/83 extreme El Niño, featured a pronounced eastward extension of the west Pacific warm pool and development of atmospheric convection, and hence a huge rainfall increase, in the usually cold and dry equatorial eastern Pacific. Such a massive reorganization of atmospheric convection, which we define as an extreme El Niño, severely disrupted global weather patterns, affecting ecosystems, agriculture6, tropical cyclones, drought, bushfires, floods and other extreme weather events worldwide. Potential future changes in such extreme El Niño occurrences could have profound socio-economic consequences. Here we present climate modelling evidence for a doubling in the occurrences in the future in response to greenhouse warming. We estimate the change by aggregating results from climate models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phases 3 and 5 multi-model databases, and a perturbed physics ensemble. The increased frequency arises from a projected surface warming over the eastern equatorial Pacific that occurs faster than in the surrounding ocean waters, facilitating more occurrences of atmospheric convection in the eastern equatorial region.
Now consider the record strength of El Nino during December 2015 through February 2016, as described in this NOAA bulletin:
This year’s El Niño, among the strongest on record, is expected to influence weather and climate patterns this winter (2015-16) by impacting the position of the Pacific jet stream.
On December 19, three weeks prior to Toohey’s report, the advocate.com published an article by Andrea Gallo on the unanimous approval by the East Baton Rouge planning commission of a new residential housing development on the NW side of Burbank Drive, despite the fact that the Baton Rouge Deluge of 2016 had flooded the landscape in question.
Here are some telling quotes from exchanges during the meeting:
David Lindenfeld, speaking on behalf of Together Baton Rouge, also asked the planning commission to be mindful of the possibility of climate change in their planning regulations. He said the commission should not ignore warming temperatures in Baton Rouge, nor should it ignore rising sea-levels that would affect drainage in local waterways.
Duke reminded the commissioners that the Metro Council instructed them not to consider the August flood in future stormwater calculations because the council deemed the flood a unique event.
Would anyone like to hazard (pun intended) a guess as to whether the houses to be constructed in this, Louisiana’s latest example of planning gone awry, will be elevated on piers or constructed slab-0n-grade?
So there you have it, Louisiana’s record rainfall in 2016 could have been an extremely rare statistical anomaly, casually dismissed with the colorful phrase ‘dumb luck’ and so unlikely to reoccur as to not justify consideration in terms of future residential flood risk. On the other hand the cumulative rainfall could have represented a series of extreme weather events in 2016, probably linked to the severe El Nino occurrence that was in turn linked to global warming.
This is a distinction with a huge difference.