AGU 2012: The Arctic turns towards the Dark Side
At a pre-conference mixer for this year's fall meeting of the AGU, I looked out at the teeming hordes and wondered — do I know anybody here?
But then I ran into Kelly Redmond, who helps direct the Desert Research Institute, and is one of the nicest and most thoughtful climatologists I know, and unfailingly helpful to reporters. When I first started reporting on climate, he took over an hour on the phone to explain some basic concepts to me, and he has a unique ability to describe climactic behavior in English, despite being a fully capable and accredited scientist.
For instance, I asked him if (as I had heard rumored) it was true that in a warming planet, with about four percent more water vapor in the atmosphere, that we should expect bigger atmospheric rivers?
He said that the computer models do predict that, but not for many decades. However, he added, we should expect (and are experiencing) "juicier" atmospheric rivers. Love that phrase.
A couple of other thoughts from Mr. Redmond:
He had the highest of praise for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the NOAA office that forecast with uncanny accuracy Sandy's path, allowing for federal and state governments to make plans for specific hospitals, subways, and so on five and even six days before landfall. He admired Mayor Bloomberg's nerve, for issuing orders to shut down hospitals, etc., based on that analysis. Said this was a landmark event in the science of the field, not just for this country, but for the world.
Although certainly a believer in global warming, Mr. Redmond has been scientifically very cautious about linking specific weather events to the overall warming signal. In the case of Superstorm Sandy, however, he said that a plausible case can be made that the big icemelt in the Arctic led to a high pressure blocking system parked over New England, forcing the superstorm to take an almost unprecedented in history left turn due west into New Jersey.
He concluded with a touch of ominous poetry:
"I don't think anyone expected the Arctic would join the Dark Side so soon."