Xtreme Weather Case Study: Pakistani Floods in 2010

In 2010 severe monsoon rains caused floods that covered a fifth of Pakistan.

The death toll was remarkably low–about the same as the U.S. experienced due to Katrina–but 13 million had to flee their homes and truth be told, work is continuing on repairing the damage.


It caused a spate of commentary by climate activists linking the floods to global warming. Typical were Joe Romm’s comments of August 12, 2010“How hot is it?  So hot that even the status quo media is waking up to the fact that human emissions of greenhouse gases are changing the climate and causing  record-smashing extreme weather events, just  as scientist predicted decades ago.”

Romm was quickly joined by bloggers ranging from John Rennie to Open Mind’s Tamino. The key quote running around the blogosphere came from Kevin Trenberth: It is irresponsible not to mention climate change. … The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). … With global warming the low level air is warm and moister and there is more energy available to fuel all of these storms and increase the buoyancy of the air so that thunderstorms are strong. … On average the low level air is 1 deg F and 4 percent moister than in the 1970s.”

The case to be made is that climate change is predicted to not only increase precipitation in unlucky regions, but concentrate it. The additional rain or snow falls in the same number of storms. The IPCC has noted the several papers advancing this theory and there hasn’t been much in the way of dispute.

The problem is that this was predicted for far in the future, after the globe had seen 2C or more of global warming. This was ahead of schedule.

Were the scientists wrong in thinking it would take so long for this to occur? Or did the media jump the gun in blaming global warming?

The media had been primed for this–Russia had undergone a savage heat wave in and around Moscow and much of Texas was experiencing a severe drought. Climate change was already being discussed as, if not the direct cause, at least a major contributing factor.

In retrospect we can see that the major media weren’t inventing the story–respected scientists and government officials came forward to support the thesis. “Global warming is one reason” for the rare spate of weather extremes, said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “We will always have climate extremes. But it looks like climate change is exacerbating the intensity of the extremes,” said Omar Baddour, chief of climate data management applications at WMO headquarters in Geneva. Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview on Pakistan TV, said “there is a linkage” between the recent spate of deadly natural disasters and climate change… “We are changing the climate of the world.”

These folk were joined by Osama bin Laden on attributing the floods to climate change. But was it true?

The flood was unusual, but hardly unprecedented. A larger flood struck Pakistan in 1930 and one of equal strength in 1950 and another in 1961. The effects of the 2010 flood were severe–but that’s primarily because the population of Pakistan has grown rapidly, from 32.5 million at the time it gained independence in 1947 to 187 million today.

There were numerous more cautious statements being made by scientists–statements that were either ignored or patted on the head like a good boy and put in the corner while the search for red meat continued. Time wrote “Now it’s important to remember that major floods have been happening in this part of the world since well before humans began worrying about the impacts of global warming.”

And in September of 2010 an article by Madhav Kandehar was published in the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society’s journal. In it he wrote, “A rapid transition of the ENSO phase from El Niño to La Niña between spring and summer of 2010 appears to be the key element in triggering a vigorous monsoon of 2010 over the Indian subcontinent…….the 2010 Pakistan floods, although seemingly unprecedented, were well within natural variability of monsoonal climate over the Indian subcontinent.”

My takeaway from this is simple. Unusual weather events happen. They always have. If global warming continues unchecked we may reach a day when weather events of unusual scope and intensity become more frequent. But that day is in the future, not the present.

And we do favors to nobody when we allow scare talk to go unchecked. It doesn’t help the Pakistanis. It doesn’t help rational discussion of climate issues. It may bring a temporary surge in traffic to scaremongers. But most of them don’t even have ads on their sites so you can’t really even say it helps them.

So why do we continue to do it?

14 responses to “Xtreme Weather Case Study: Pakistani Floods in 2010

  1. You know as well as I do Tom. The newspaper articles are to scare the public so they will be more receptive to a carbon tax. The carbon tax will not change the climate but it will make more money for the government and governments always need more money. The fact that the UK government is killing a person a day in the winter, without any media storm about it, horrifies me. The UK government knows what it is doing, the citizens know and the media knows but only the UK government reports it. Something seriously wrong when your government will kill you for money.
    It is down to 72 F here but even without heat, no worries of dying of cold.


  2. “But most of them don’t even have ads on their sites so you can’t really even say it helps them.”

    True, but the idea is to generate momentum for policy initiatives: getting rid of the hated FF industry.

    Global Warming Mania is more like a religious movement than anything else. It’s primed on ideas about morality and justice and fed by fear.

  3. Sorry, that should be 65 deaths a day in the winter in the UK, caused by “fuel poverty” Some 7,800 people die during winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes properly, says fuel poverty expert Professor Christine Liddell of the University of Ulster. That works out at 65 deaths a day.

  4. As many articles have elaborated, Pakistan floods as well as flooding of Brisbane were exacerbated by human actions. Filling of reservoirs to the brim when they should have been emptied etc.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    Tom – you did not mention that the Pakistani floods of 2010 and the Moscow heat wave of that year were acknowledged as caused by the same jet stream blocking event.

    The cold winter in the UK that year was likewise linked to jet stream blocking by Lockwood, who noted that this phenomenon occurs more often when solar activity is low. As I’m sure you know we have commenced a deep solar minimum at the moment, possibly the deepest since the Maunder.

    I suspect that the hot US summer last year and also our heatwave here in Australia recently were likewise. The synoptic pattern for the Australia heatwave at the time was a classic blocking pattern with a big high in the Tasman sea.

  6. Tom,
    The industry I know best, insurance, likes AGW hype a lot. A whole whole lot, in the reinsurance segment. Pielke, jr. has analyzed this quite a bit. One only has to look at how what is happening with the hurricane / tropical cyclone portion of insurance premiums to understand why.

    • I can’t believe nobody has gone after Munich Re. I really can’t.

    • I live in FL, and I can tell you part of the formation of my skeptical bias is the amount of increase FL homeowners insurance premiums were jacked up after the 2005 / 2006 hurricane seasons. AGW and the predicted increases in hurricanes by models were held up as justification for jacking up these rates.

      This was investigated by a Sarasota newspaper, and the author was actually given a Pulitzer Prize for the investigation.

      “In a two-year investigation, St. John penetrated one of the secretive and elusive corners of business. Her findings: The $10 billion insurance market on which Floridians rely is, at every level, rigged against consumers.”

      Florida insurers rely on dubious storm model

      I may be right leaning, but I have quite unfavorable views of the insurance industry.

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