Climate Change drought us 2013

Published on April 17th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Climate Change Is Worsening Drought — NOAA Study Fans Confusion Flame

When I first saw the news that the 2012 US drought probably wasn’t caused by global warming, I knew the global warming misinformers confusionists would blow the story and get caught up in all kinds of anti-science conspiracy theories. Naturally, that’s what they’ve done.

drought us 2012

Of course, NOAA was quite haphazard with this report, knowing full well how much the professional and amateur doubt manufacturers blow up this kind of news to an absurd degree.

Thankfully, I knew that Dr Joe Romm of world-renowned Climate Progress would do a good job responding. And he has….

NOAA has issued a report on a small part of the recent brutal droughts that have hit the United States over the past few years. The report — “An Interpretation of the Origins of the 2012 Central Great Plains Drought” — is needlessly confusing, scientifically problematic, and already leading to misleading headlines.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has sent to reporters a Commentary on the report, which I repost below. He concludes:

“This report has some useful material in it describing aspects of the drought in 2012 in the central US. But it is quite incomplete in many respects, and it asks the wrong questions.  Then it does not provide very useful answers to the questions that are asked.”

Yep, a big blunder all around, and just when Americans were starting to connect the dots, even Republicans!

Dr Romm has some more insightful commentary: “Indeed, it seems odd to do a 44-page report on the drought in the Central Great Plains (in the spring and summer of 2012) when so much of the Great Plains — and Southwest — have also been in a brutal extended drought that continues to this day….”

drought us 2013

“A variety of leading experts explained how human-caused warming worsened the 2011 drought (see Warming-Enhanced Texas Drought Is Once in “500 or 1,000 Years … Basically Off the Charts,” Says State Climatologist). And numerous scientific studies have projected that global warming will dry out the Southwest and at least parts of the Central Great Plains”

For a more detailed debunking, one that delves into the science much more, read the full Climate Progress post.

All in all, though, I think this situation teaches us three things: 1) we should look at the actual scientific reports we are reporting on(!), 2) we should be familiar with the science we are reporting on (or at the very least consult some top scientists in the field when such stories pop up), 3) global warming confusionists will keep twisting the science until they get findings it doesn’t show, and 4) seriously, don’t feed the trolls.

Any more thoughts on lessons learned from this story?

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he's the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.

  • Bill Knowlton

    So the warming that isn’t happening is causing worse droughts? Droughts are not getting worse. The worst recent droughts were in the 1930s dust bowl.

  • Inis Magrath

    IT’S NOT CLIMATE CHANGE. The Family Research Council already informed us that the cause of the drought is because of the gays.

    • Zachary Shahan

      oh shite, i better revise.

  • Road_hammer

    My climate has not changed in 8 months, all I have seen is snow, snow, and more snow.

  • Threepwood

    The author is correct on this; look at the science not the ‘reporting’. Generally the more scientifically literate people become on this subject, the more they have come to understand that climate variation is natural on this planet.

    • Zachary Shahan

      lol, you mean 97% of climate scientists, who say the opposite of what you say?

      no, the more people become *misinformed* on this topic, the more they follow that logic. you know the old saying — a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

      • Bill Knowlton

        97% figure is a lie. They selected 72 respondants out of over 5K responses to manufactor that number.

  • Rodney Vero

    Awww – it’s just a natural cycle created by that glowing orb in the sky that revolves around our 6000 year-old, FLAT planet! On our FLAT Earth, if ocean’s were really rising, there’d already be problems in coastal cities! They can’t pull this huge LIE off on us anymore!! We is two SMART for that!

    • Hi There

      You dont sound smart. So you still believe in a flat earth.

      • Rodney Vero

        Not only FLAT, but it’s only 6000 years old, AND the sun revolves around IT just like all the other stars we can see in the sky!! You got prufe to the kontrary? Lessee it!! Global warmin is just a big FAT lie, just like evolution! Just ask HoneyBooBoo!

      • citizenw

        Rodney forgot /sarc

        • Rodney Vero

          (sometimes it’s more fun to watch them take the bait – the real issue though is that there are peeps out here who REALLY think this way – AND – they can vote!)

          • citizenw

            Which, unfortunately, being a resident of DC, I CANNOT.

          • Rodney Vero

            Acknowledged you can’t vote; a shame really, especially when you consider who actually CAN vote (see my posts above). At least you have a brain and the ability to discern sarcasm!

          • citizenw

            Thanks… a low threshold, but apparently not enough to be allowed to vote if you live in the wrong zip code…

        • Zachary Shahan
          • citizenw

            Thanks for that, Zach… ;-)

    • Zachary Shahan

      the funny/sad thing is that many people would think you were being serious.

  • Jim Davis

    hilarious! Just yesterday via Reuters – Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown

    • josex

      Individual scientists fail and struggle, some more than others, but the science as a whole generally moves forward. There is some struggle to get the timing with precision because climate is defined as long term changes of averages and not the shorter term effects masked by weather and oscillations that are much more difficult to predict. It’s like if we take away “all” of your food, I may be off in predicting when you will die or how long it will take you to lose 30 kg, but almost surely you will within a few months if not weeks or days. Some problems are more challenging than others. Being off in some parts is always expected. Further, the “predictions” are just statistical confidence levels they believe applies and to around the 90 to 95% range. Sometimes, we do hit that 5% range of uncertainty.

      • Jim Davis

        That is great Josex. Can you explain to me why the earth was hotter than it is now when humans didn’t exist? or simply explain why the earth has had cooling periods and warming periods before man. Then i want to know why the ice caps on mars are melting if you have the time. Obviously, it can’t be related to earths man made problems. Thank you in advance.

        • josex

          >> Can you explain to me why the earth was hotter than it is now when
          humans didn’t exist? or simply explain why the earth has had cooling
          periods and warming periods before man. Then i want to know why the ice
          caps on mars are melting if you have the time.

          Right, so because hurricanes knock down buildings, there is absolutely no way that man can knock down buildings also and at that knock down many more. Are you serious?

          As for the earth being hotter before, that is a silly thing by various measures. First, humans were not around then. I want us to stay around, so if correlation was to be taken at face value here, you just gave a great reason to want us to avoid an environment that is too hot and may very well promote other species over us. [Were humans happy back then? They weren't even alive! And you want to return to that!!] More seriously, drastic environment change poses a number of problems to our standard of living and those of species we depend upon. As for explanations for this higher temp, the sun was weaker way back then (according to modern theories on this) but there was a much higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to make up for it.. CO2 that was sequestered under ground very slowly over millions of years but which we are now releasing in a tiny fraction of the time. It does seem though that there are plateaus in temperature that might be reached; however, at those levels, the sea was many meters higher than it is today. This poses more than your garden variety “serious problem” to coastal populations and investments, although it seems that the damage will be born in spurts across generations and include catastrophic flooding from hurricanes. So as human population keeps skyrocketing and water resources become strained, we are speeding up these difficulties faster for our great grand kids by raising the temperature of the planet. Won-der-ful.

          How about we charge a fee to those who release the most CO2 and pay that as a dividend to those who consume less of it? What a notion to have those harming our environment pay for the clean up and costs to others!

          • Jim Davis

            How about we charge a fee to those who release the most CO2 and pay that as a dividend to those who consume less of it?

            And how would this solve anything? Why does money enter the picture? I love this.. give money that solves everything. …it solves nothing.

            Nature has a way of destroying everything man can build whenever it wants.. Man is insignificant to nature.

          • josex

            >> Why does money enter the picture?

            The world works via markets that use money to trade. Money affects incentives. Let those who want to consume more of the substances that worsen all of our environment pay higher since we will need the money to clean up the mess.

            I am open to alternatives, but I don’t see why people object to this approach.

            >> Nature has a way of destroying everything man can build whenever it wants.. Man is insignificant to nature.

            This is about man using nature to destroy man. True, a comet could hit us and wipe us out, but why hasten the natural process?

          • Jim Davis


          • Jim Davis
          • Zachary Shahan

            Sad that people keep bringing up the same ridiculous points and thinking they are smart comments. Thanks for taking the time to reply in depth to that nonsense, @josex:disqus.

      • Zachary Shahan

        Excellent analogy.

  • ErikKC

    Zachary, you are a bit of a confusionist yourself. I can’t make heads nor tails of what you are trying to say. Other than shilling for your other sites.

    • Zachary Shahan

      i’m confused. i have one link to another one of our sites — it’s a story backing up what is probably a surprising statement to many people. shilling?

  • Robert MacKay

    What an arrogant, condescending article, regardless of the message. The insulting language and arrogant attitude of the author towards anyone who is not convinced already is negative and makes the reader disregard any worthy content simply out of disgust. If you want to convince people and end the debate then do it with less condescension and smugness regardless of how you feel about the deniers.

    very unprofessional article.

    • heropass

      Huh? I don’t see smugness … Oops, I’m feeding a troll!

      • Zachary Shahan

        to be honest, i don’t recall feeling any smugness when writing this, but people can read things differently…

        • heropass

          True. Good on you for giving the benefit of the doubt that Robert is being serious. I think he was predisposed to get angry about it, it’s not really you. Maybe he’ll learn the math and science and statistics necessary to understand the data. Almost no one is good at statistics, by the way, lots of erroneous inferences made by the deniers.

          • Zachary Shahan

            Thanks. Yes, words come across very differently based on one’s predisposition….

            Statistics: yes, that’s a huge issue… but not one that is probably ever going to be solved.

          • heropass

            People make inductive inferences all the time, and a lot of those inferences are invalid. Our brain is built to make these inferences, but it was evolved to deal with issues in the immediate environment, the local environment, not the global environment. Unfortunately, it usually takes getting burned many times by erroneous inductions to cure personalities of falling into the trap; even then, some are so vested in their need to be right that they will deny the evidence even if it is staring them in the face.

    • sleepd

      Actually, I was just having a hard time seeing it through all the ads on the page. Generally, science defense is more believable when it isn’t commercialized.

      • Zachary Shahan

        because people should only do it in their free time, not as a paid, professional job?

    • Zachary Shahan

      haha, if you say so. :D

  • klmdia

    It’s the sun, stupid!

    • josex

      It’s also the doors, windows, and insulation. Turn on the same heat level in a house yet see how much hotter it gets when you close the door and windows more and use more layers of wall insulation. The greenhouse effect provides better insulation to outer space coldness. And as more ice melts, the darker planet also absorbs more of the sunlight hitting it while reflecting less of it. As cold deep ocean waters stream upwards they lead to some la nina years which cool for a little while the surface air in contact with this cold water. This natural effect is temporary and provides oscillations upon a steady rising bias. Scientists struggle every day because their equations aren’t perfect and there are always more problems to tackle, but a lot of these major effects and observations are not in question in the science.

      • Zachary Shahan

        @josex:disqus: you’re my favorite person today. thanks for getting in here with such great comments.

      • Bill Knowlton

        CO2 is like closing a vent when the front door (water vapor) is wide open. CO2 blocks only a very small range of infrared light. Most of what it blocks is already blocked by water vapor. Additional CO2 blocks less than the previous CO2 because its effects are logarithmic.
        It is the sun. How the sun effects climate is a very understudied subject. But climate correlates to the changes in the sun much better than to CO2. The recent “pause” in warming was predicted by solar scientists.

        • josex

          >> Additional CO2 blocks less than the previous CO2 because its effects are logarithmic.

          We have to add more CO2 than before to get the same increase in effect as from the last addition, but that doesn’t mean the new CO2 stands around with nothing to do.

          The logarithmic effect is very well known. Climate scientists refer to how a doubling of CO2 raises the temp by 1C (if we ignore water vapor feedback and albedo ice melting feedback, etc). Google “climate sensitivity”. That is possibly a misnomer but shows how the doubling behavior of (specifically) CO2 is so basic to the science.

          If you are wearing a thin sweater and then you put on another thin sweater (double it), do you honestly think you aren’t going to feel warmer, that your body’s vicinity isn’t going to be at a higher temp?

          Adding more CO2 means more photons that would have gone into space now will get absorbed by the extra CO2 that was added (there is now twice as much). The CO2 doesn’t hang around with nothing to do. As a simple analogy, it simply stands at the “end of the line” to do its stuff later in time once the photons do reach it. Since CO2 is a trace gas and the photon energy it absorbs is almost immediately shared with the other gases (N2, O2, etc), we basically have an atmosphere with the same pressure and volume but with heat less quickly able to leave the planet+atmosphere system because it gets intercepted more times on “its” path from the ground into space. Again, since the volume is about the same (CO2 is a trace gas so doubling it hardly changes the total density of the entire atmosphere), this means we have more energy within basically the same mass. This tends to result in higher temperatures. The sun keeps adding energy every second, but there is a greater “backlog” of this energy within that same mass (volume) before release into space. This is similar to what happens when you add more insulation around an enclosed space that is being heated; you hardly change the mass, but you make it more difficult for energy to escape into the outside environment. Because the energy leaves less easily, the average equilibrium temperature will rise.

          >> But climate correlates to the changes in the sun much better than to CO2.

          Can you provide a reference because I have heard the opposite from climate scientists. Over the past several decades, the oscillating (and nearly constant) sun intensity has if anything slightly dipped. Search Wikipedia and tell me if you find a graph that shows temp and sun following a causal pattern. I haven’t found one, and this very lack of correlation is one important reason to support the CO2 views even if you don’t understand the physics and math of the greenhouse effect and if you don’t understand the physics and math of the computer models. Also, CO2 effect kicked into gear this past half century allowing its effect on the temperature to rise above the “natural variability” noise. Both CO2 and temp show steep rises in the latter half of the last century (“steep” in comparison to the earth’s history).

          Current slow down in surface air temps include effects from la nina (cold ocean water rising and being a dominating effect). This is cyclical so we will have to deal in some years with the counter effect, a prevalence of el nino.

          I am not a scientist, but this is my understanding from the time I have spent studying the topic of late.

    • Zachary Shahan
      • klmdia

        You’re in an 11 year hiatus of global warming, despite continued
        CO2 emissions. Yet you continue to stick to the faith. All of your current epistles can’t explain the 11 year pause, so unbutton that collar and go get some sun while you hug your tree.

  • Mark Vonnegut

    Seriously, Don’t feed them!

    • Zachary Shahan

      I got out of the habit, dove back into it today — this is a trending story, so better to have some perspective if people are going to be reading it anyway.

      • Mark Vonnegut

        I got ya :) – I thought your statement was funny. I had never heard it before. I shall add it to my lexicon; and see what I can do about following its precepts. Being a troll, as well as a Marxist, I unfortunately feed plenty of them, all by myself.

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