Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Is Anthony Watts denying the flooding in Phoenix?

Sou | 12:21 PM Go to the first of 7 comments. Add a comment

Is Anthony Watts denying the record rain and flash floods in Phoenix yesterday? (It's yesterday here, but it's probably still today in Phoenix.) Or is he denying something else that he's just made up.

He has a very odd article at WUWT (archived here). First of all he has a headline:
Phoenix flooding – not due to ‘climate change’, extreme rainfall events are not on the increase
I can write suggestive headlines too :)

He's wrong about the second part, but we'll get to that later. In the first part of his headline, he seems very certain about the cause of yesterday's Phoenix flooding.

Now that's got to be the fastest attribution study on record, if that's what Anthony has done.  But has he? Apparently not. He has no data to support his claim that climate change did not cause the Phoenix flash flood. Nor does he point to any claim that yesterday's flood was caused by climate change.

Is it a strawman? It would seem so. Nowhere does Anthony quote anyone claiming that the flash flood was caused by climate change. Which isn't surprising, since it's virtually impossible to single out a single flash flood and work out how much of it (or if it) could have occurred if the world was as cold as it was in, say the 1850s (or even the 1950s). Extreme events are rare. If they weren't rare they wouldn't be classed as extreme, they'd be classed as normal. The very rarity makes it difficult to attribute them to climate change - though not impossible.

Anthony wrote:
Ah the alarmists are out in full force today over a rainstorm. The Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix reported 2.96 inches of rain before 8:30 a.m. local time, beating the old record of 2.91 inches on Sept. 4, 1939. Parts of Interstate 10 were flooded, with the morning rush hour just beginning. Schools closed for the day, and police asked people to stay off the roads. At least 13,000 homes and businesses lost power.

Read that again. The alarmists in this case, according to Anthony, are apparently:
  • The Sky Harbor Airport for reporting the record rainfall
  • The school authorities for making the decision to close the schools because of flooding
  • The police for asking people to stay off the roads
  • The people who lost power.

Not one mention of anyone claiming that this particular event was caused by climate change.

The next thing he wrote was a tweet from NOAA's Northwest Weather Service:

Not a mention of climate change in the tweet. So far the only person who has mentioned climate change is Anthony Watts.

Finally, right down the bottom of his article Anthony finds someone who juxtaposed the words climate change and the Phoenix floods - in a tweet. It was Roger Pielke Jr.  Roger, who tweeted:
Phoenix floods, climate change!...

But Roger isn't claiming the record event was because of climate change. He's just tweeted an irrelevancy. He's combined all the rain events over the USA together - the wetter north east of the USA and the drier south west - and claimed - well he didn't claim anything one way or another. He just tweeted an irrelevant chart.

Anthony explains that:
The USNCA he refers to is the National Climate Assessment report from NOAA/NCDC. 

He didn't provide a link, so I will:


Heavy downpours are increasing nationally...

I came across this chart in the US climate assessment report that Anthony and Roger referred to. I wondered why neither Anthony nor Roger saw fit to include it. It's much more informative than combining regions that are getting less heavy rain with those getting more heavy rain and shouting "look ma, no change!":

Figure 32. Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, with especially large increases in the Midwest and Northeast.99 Despite considerable decadal-scale natural variability, indices such as this one based on 2-day precipitation totals exceeding a threshold for a 1-in-5-year occurrence exhibit a greater than normal occurrence of extreme events since 1991 in all U.S. regions except Alaska and Hawai‘i. Each bar represents that decade’s average, while the far right bar in each graph represents the average for the 12-year period of 2001-2012. Analysis is based on 726 long-term, quality-controlled station records. This figure is a regional expansion of the national index in Figure 2.16 of Chapter 2. (Figure source: updated from Kunkel et al. 201399).
Note the first sentence in the caption. It starts with: "Heavy downpours are increasing nationally..."

Finally, Anthony Watts seems to like the IPCC extreme events report from 2011. The following sentence is from the SREX Summary for Policymakers:
There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation on the global scale.

And there's more from the same report:
There have been statistically significant trends in the number of heavy precipitation events in some regions. It is likely that more of these regions have experienced increases than decreases, although there are strong regional and subregional variations in these trends.

So Anthony has run out of legs to stand on. And I can write a suggestive headline just like Anthony Watts!

Let's recap:

  • Anthony Watts claims that alarmists are claiming something but provided not one bit of evidence that they claimed what he claims that they claimed.
  • That leads one to surmise that he was referring to the record rain in Phoenix and claiming it didn't happen, despite all the evidence that it did
  • Anthony claims that extreme rainfall events are not on the increase - but the evidence shows that they are - in some regions of the USA as well as in many parts of the world.
  • Anthony refers his readers to a publication that has lots of mentions of extreme precipitation increasing in different parts of the USA.

From the WUWT comments

mark l  eggs Anthony Watts on and supports his using the opportunity to make up stuff and reject climate science:
September 8, 2014 at 10:58 am
Never let a good disaster go to waste.

Although 83 mm of rain in a day isn't the greatest by world-wide standards, when the previous record was 74 mm and that was set 83 years ago, and the city is on the edge of a desert, it can't expect the storm water infrastructure to cope.  I wonder does Olaf Koenders think in a similar way about the heat waves in the USA in the 1930s? I wonder if his arithmetic is as bad as his denial of climate science? (3.29-2.91=0.38 inches) [Edit: Ramiro pointed out that Olaf was referring to the number in the NOAA tweet. I missed that. My number came from Roger Pielke's reference. Sou.]
September 8, 2014 at 4:48 pm
Prognostications of disaster. A measly record broken by a mere 0.05 inches. Seems like someone stopped the car to go pee.

Peter Dunford thinks that climate change may have played a part in the record rainfall, but he's not impressed.
September 8, 2014 at 11:00 am
What was causing such extreme rainfall in 1934?
So 100 parts per million of CO2 added to the atmosphere adds 5 1/100th of an inch to extreme weather events. Yawn.

Oldseadog is a bit simple. His mind cannot grasp that climate change changes drought as well as precipitation. Message to Oldseadog - increasing atmospheric CO2 does a lot more besides. It causes global warming and climate change. It melts ice. It raises seas. It acidifies the oceans. It even makes plants grow more.
September 8, 2014 at 11:05 am
But … but … I thought they were blaming the drought on CAGW.
C’mon, they can’t have it both ways. 

Dave The Engineer isn't the brightest spark either, but he knows his denialist mantras.
September 8, 2014 at 11:14 am
Oldseadog said: “C’mon, they can’t have it both ways.”
Sure they can, it is a cult, reality has nothing to do with it. Eventually to deal with the conflict they will bring out the tubs of “koolaid”. To relieve the pain. Looking forward to it. 

bernie1815  thinks the flash floods in Phoenix Arizona will make up for the extreme drought in California. He's not very good at geography.
September 8, 2014 at 11:10 am
Isn’t this good news with all the drought issues, etc?
If you want gentle rain move to the West of Ireland or the West of Scotland where it rains a bit almost every day. 

Luke Warmist says it rained 4 inches where he was. And he's "pretty sure" that the record will be reported as a "new norm in a warming world".  Funny what deniers are sure about compared to what they don't know.
September 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm
I live about 12 miles southeast of sky harbor where the record resides. We got right at 4 inches, which I’m fairley certain ABC national news will report as the new norm in a warming world. They’ve done it before, and I just can’t see them passing this one by.

nutso fasst is a rare breed at WUWT. He actually heard what climate scientists have been saying.
September 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm
Last I heard, climate models showed wet areas getting wetter and dry areas getting dryer–the latter being specifically projected for the Southwest U.S.

Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2. 

Field, Christopher B., ed. Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation: Special report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, 2012. (link)


  1. Am I missing something? In Anthony's quote and the NOAA tweet they say 2.96 inches (0.05 inches above the previous record), but then in response to Olaf Koenders' comment, you say 3.29 inches.

    Where did that value come from? You don't mention it anywhere else...

    1. Oh, that was me. I meant to link it to the link in Roger's tweet. I'll fix the article. I missed that the commenter was referring to the NOAA tweet.


  2. Another comment lost. H8.

    I post this link: http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Ce-Cr/Colorado-River-Basin.html

    Which shows that LA gets water from the Colorado, and Phoenix drains into it, therefore the CA drought is indeed infinitesimally alleviated by this storm.

  3. By coincidence it has just taken twice as long as usual to run into town because of an extreme rain event (aka poured cats and dogs) in Melbourne.


    1. Wow, I saw it looked a bit dreary outside today but didn't realise it was that bad. Although it looks like the suburbs were hit and the city came off ok.

      It seems like Melbourne gets flooded once per year now at least.

  4. The appropriate reaction to Roger Pielke Jr input is always "How?" This is another example of 'disappearing' reality by inappropriate combination.
    He combines the regions that are not experiencing increases in extreme precipitation, the SW and NW, with the rest of the country, that is.

    "These trends are larger than natural variations for the Northeast, Midwest, ...Southeast,Great Plains... The trends are not larger than natural variations for the Southwest,...and the Northwest." National Climate Assessment

  5. Heavy downpours have increased globally over the last 3 decades. This one is irrefutable and rooted in rock solid science and observations.

    A warmer atmosphere and warmer ocean, all things being equal will result in higher dew points/ low level moisture/precipitable water available to weather systems in a favorable position to produce heavy downpours.

    When you squeeze a saturated sponge, you displace Y amount of water with X amount of squeezing.

    If you increase the size of the sponge, it has more capacity to hold moisture. When the bigger sponge becomes saturated or nearly saturated, X amount of squeezing will yield Y+1 amount of water because there is more water available from the source region.

    Since temperatures are warmer now than they were 3 decades ago, the atmospheric "sponge" is bigger.


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