I finally watched it, and it’s TERRIFYING.
A group of people were trapped inside a convenient store when the tornado — the deadliest single tornado in the US since 1947 and the ninth-deadliest tornado of all time — ripped through Joplin, Missouri. The video is horrifying.
It sounds like something out of a disaster movie.
Commenter jinxtgr got me thinking (his comments are after the jump): whether or not you believe that the recent floods, hurricanes, and tornados are the result of natural or human-caused climate change, it seems fairly obvious that the weather as of late has been bizarre, to put it mildly; so the question becomes what now?
The below explanation about the patterns of weather I find fascinating and compelling. As I understand it, his argument boils down to this: Weather is a chaotic system, but falls into predictable chaotic patterns. There are no weather flukes or outliers, only weather indicators. Climate change simply shifts the weather patterns (like an Overton Window, if you will), creating storms more destructive than we’ve ever seen because it pushes the outer limits of how destructive a storm can be to Really Fucking Destructive.
This doesn’t mean that every storm is going to be as destructive as the one in Joplin. It means that Mother Nature is telling us “This is how bananas I can get. Just you wait and see.” In any event, the weather tomorrow is supposed to be terrible throughout the Midwest, so there’s that.
I don’t know what to take away from all of this. After the tsunami hit in Japan, I stayed awake all night, reading about the Ring of Fire, waiting for an earthquake to hit, and wishing I had some earthquake insurance. I spent the following days watching every Discovery Channel program I could find on tsunamis.
Needless to say, I don’t know anything about this stuff, but I find it fascinating:
It’s very, very simple. There doesn’t even have to BE a model, much less anything predictive- in fact it’s the opposite of predictive.
Weather is a chaotic system. Climate is a gauge of the energy in that system. Climate can be tracked in a broad, general sense. Weather cannot- it is chaotic, meaning it follows the mathematical rules of chaos as first discovered by Lorenz with (surprise!) a toy weather modeling equation.
Chaos works like this: if you have very little energy, things are stable. As the energy in the system increases, the range of possible states expands. At some points, the system can fall into predictable chaotic patterns: in weather, this would be knowing the general force of storms and cyclones, having a basic idea of how big these things are.
As the energy increases, the range of possible states continues to expand, and what you used to know about ‘how big tornadoes are’ stops being useful.
I’ll repeat that: as the energy increases (as the climate imperceptibly creeps upward in temperature), you stop being able to predict how big things like storms and cyclones will be.
If the CLIMATE stopped heating, and cooled off, the WEATHER would return to the tornado sizes people are used to.
It’s not going to do that.
As the CLIMATE continues to heat, by seemingly meaningless numbers (what’s a degree or two? right?), the WEATHER can and will start throwing up outlier events, storms and tornadoes that are unprecedented in size and destructiveness.
What we don’t know (?) is whether this is also causing the earthquakes- seems likely enough but I don’t know the laws under which tectonic plates move, they might not really be fluid enough to have chaotic behavior.
Climate sets the base energy level for weather.
Climate change directly causes the increase in potential destructive force of weather, because weather is a chaotic system.
It has NOTHING TO DO WITH STUDY OR THEORY! It is a mathematical formula like 2+2=4! There is nothing even slightly ambiguous about any of this!
Right now I would say, as a longterm plan get the hell out of any place, anywhere in the world, that is ‘tornado alley’ or ‘hurricane central’ or any of that. Seriously.
Because this is just a little teaser of what we will end up facing in just ten years and it’s too late to change that even if everyone suddenly woke the FUCK up.
Please, work to communicate these very basic and obvious points, because it can get worse or it can get ridiculously worse- and we as a species are stupid but we don’t really deserve what chaos can throw at us. The planet will be fine- it’s a big rock. Life on it? That’s the 100-year, 1000-year question.
Next year’s tornado will be worse.
Bet your life on it. It’s not up for debate. If this one was bad, next year’s will be worse. The year after- worse still.
Within fifty years, we will lose an entire state to this. Either tornado alley or hurricane central. Get out.
The reason for terrible tornado seasons in the past is that weather was already chaotic.
Climate change means that it’s still chaotic but the possible maximum destruction goes up and up and up.
It’s not the fact of ‘fluke bad weather’ that’s an issue: that was already inherent in the system. What we are changing, and changing rapidly, is the scope of what that can mean.
Think of it like this: any given weather event could be considered as a marker for future events within one order of magnitude. So you get a tornado- might get another one a tenth the size, might get one ten times the size, don’t expect a thousand times the size.
Get one ten times the size, now expect a possible maximum of ten times the size of that, because you’ve established what’s within the range of possibility. Get one twice as bad, suddenly you’re considering possible storms 200 times as bad as what you once thought normal.
In a situation of climate change never assume a record weather event is something that will hit and go away forever, because it’s just demonstrated the range of the pattern of behavior. Not the maximum limit- it just demonstrated the range weather goes across now. You can safely expect that any given weather event is part of a chaotic pattern and that pattern just showed you weather could go there, anytime.
Because outlier weather can’t happen. It’s always part of the chaotic system, always showing the possible range of behavior.
If that seems like it’s worse than it used to be… o_O then what the hell have I been saying? That’s the whole point of climate change.
[images via CBS/AP]
[cross-posted and such]