Extreme rains will breach to unseen levels, says new science led by Dr. David Neelin from University of California. Our cities and farms are not ready. Arnie Gundersen on his trip to Fukushima Japan, and the risks of Trump with the nuclear codes.

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It’s hardly a newscast these days without weather porn. In January 2017 it was Houston flooding, mudslides in California, and an Oregon town or two with canoes in the streets. Over 230 Americans have died in flooding since 2015. Many more perished around the world, as extreme precipitation events pop up on every continent.

But what if extreme precipitation gets even worse as the world warms? What if rains beyond our experience swamp the infrastructure of cities, or wipe out crops? A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that is exactly what will happen.

Our guest is the lead author, Dr. J. David Neelin. He’s a Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, at the University of California in Los Angeles. Neelin has published over 150 papers during the past few decades. David Neelin is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union. He leads UCLA’s Climate Systems Interaction Group.

We’ll be talking about the paper “Global warming precipitation accumulation increases above the current-climate cutoff scale” at published by PNAS January 17, 2017.

Reading this work, I had to work through two stages. The first is the principle that there has been a limit to the amount of rain that can fall from the sky in a certain period. You call that a “cutoff” point. That sounds like a good thing, – maybe Nature’s way of keeping us from drowning. David explains what those limits are. The second stage, and this is the really worrying part, is that this cutoff limit will change as the world warms, allowing even more extreme rainfall events. Our city drainage systems are not ready, and crops will be damaged.

I remember just a couple of years ago Great Britain was hit with a string of super-storms. Drainage systems that worked since Victorian times completely failed. In fact, some villages that had not flooded since the Middle Ages went under. Don’t forget the massive rains that flooded Pakistan in 2010, and again in 2011. Huge parts of country went under and many people died.

Here is the significance of this paper, as written by PNAS:

Large accumulations of rainfall over a precipitation event can impact human infrastructure. Unlike precipitation intensity distributions, probability distributions for accumulations at first drop slowly with increasing size. At a certain size—the cutoff scale—the behavior regime changes, and the probabilities drop rapidly. In current climate, every region is protected from excessively large accumulations by this cutoff scale, and human activities are adapted to this. An analysis of how accumulations will change under global warming gives a natural physical interpretation for the atmospheric processes producing this cutoff, but, more importantly, yields a prediction that this cutoff scale will extend in a warmer climate, leading to vastly disproportionate increases in the probabilities of the very largest events.

David Neelin has done tremendous work on the relationships between ocean and atmosphere. He’s deeply into things like planetary waves and other forces that shape storms and weather. Frankly, his understanding of the workings of our climate are well beyond the comprehension of most people. He’s gone places you and I will never go.  Neelin studies the workings of systems that are unpredictable at specific times and places, but understandable at larger views and longer times (the science of the stochastic).

I end by asking David Neelin this question: “Do you think the new Trump Administration will succeed in dampening American climate research?” He says his graduate students are asking that as well. But Neelin remains optimistic that science will proceed.

Download or listen to this 25 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. David Neelin in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Other scientists have published predicting more extreme rains as global warming goes forward. For example, there is this study by the Potsdam Institute, among many: Record-breaking heavy rainfall events increased under global warming


The Potsdam Institute writes:

The average increase is 12 percent globally – but 56 percent in South East Asia

An advanced statistical analysis of rainfall data from the years 1901 to 2010 derived from thousands of weather stations around the globe shows that over 1980-2010 there were 12 percent more of these events than expected in a stationary climate, a scenario without global warming. “Due to the upward trend, the worldwide increase of record-breaking daily rainfall events in the very last year of the studied period reaches even 26 percent”, Lehmann adds.

The record-breaking anomaly has distinct patterns across Earth’s continents with generally wet regions seeing an over-proportional increase and drier regions less so. In South East Asian countries the observed increase in record-breaking rainfall events is as high as 56 percent, in Europe 31 percent, in the central US 24 percent. In contrast, some regions experienced a significant decrease of record-breaking daily rainfall events. In the Mediterranean, the reduction is 27 percent, and in the Western US 21 percent. Both regions are at risk of severe droughts.”

For more, find this article: Lehmann, J., Coumou, D., Frieler, K. (2015): “Increased record-breaking precipitation events under global warming”. Published in the journal Climatic Change [DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1434-y]

You can see the rainfall is already very uneven, and will continue to be more uneven as climate change progresses. Just for fun, I looked up the heaviest recorded rainfall in the United States. That was 42 inches in 24 hours near Alvin, Texas, on July 26, 1979.


Weather.com also says:

Heavy rainfall and flooding should be taken seriously. Flooding has killed an average of 82 people per year, according to NOAA, making it the second most deadly weather-related hazard over the last 30 years, just behind heat.


The technical report for that study is here.



Several Radio Ecoshock supporters suggest I go easy on the nuclear power industry. Maybe we should keep the existing old reactors going as long as we can to avoid burning more fossil fuels. Even if one reactor blows in America or Europe, says one of my correspondents, the impact and the number of dead will be far less than the millions of all species who will die in a rapid climate shift. So there’s the question. Should we keep old reactors going to reduce our damage to the atmosphere?

All through the Fukushima nuclear tragedy and some close calls in America, Arnie has been our repeat guest on Radio Ecoshock. He’s an expert who testifies in court cases connected to nuclear power. He’s been in the nuclear industry. He knows how it operates Arnie is the chief engineer and scientist for the nuclear education agency, Fairewinds.org, founded by his wife, Maggie Gundersen.

TOPICS YOU CAN FIND IN THIS INTERVIEW! (and a full transcript offered below)

We cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • nuclear power as a solution for climate change
  • the risks of keeping old reactors operating
  • the high risks of keeping the Indian Point reactor going near New York City, and the deal Governor Cuomo made to shut them down
  • news from Arnie’s trip to Fukushima in 2016 and the government cover-up there
  • the work of Dr. Marco Kaltofen and his results at Boston Chemical Data to show radioactivity in worker’s clothes at Fukushima.
  • Kaltofen offers open source results (anyone can use them) found here.
  • the new 2 minute animation “Smokescreen” provided by Fairewinds (here on Vimeo) or here at the Fairewinds site.
  • Donald Trump’s claims to develop new nuclear weapons
  • the relationships between the nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons development
  • harassment of nuclear whistle blowers by the nuclear industry and the government (outrageous!)

We didn’t cover the project Arnie was working on last week. He was preparing a brief for the group “Mothers for Peace“. They want the Diablo Canyon reactor in California shut down by 2019. Arnie used his extensive knowledge of the nuclear industry to list out the outmoded and outworn parts in that reactor. Operators who know a shutdown is coming eventually, tend to skimp on maintenance and replacements, hoping to keep going until the shutdown without a major failure. The public cannot bear the cost of that risk, because a major melt-down could affect a large area of California, and beyond, not to mention the food supply for the western United States (and Canada in the winter).

Listen to or download this 35 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Arnie Gundersen in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Or read the whole transcript of the interview, as prepared by Fairewinds Energy Education.

That’s it for this week.  More science and activism to come.  Thank you for listening!