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Flood Crisis Consistent with Accentuated Hydrological Cycle: A Note from Luke Walker

Yesterday David Karoly from Melbourne University’s school of earth sciences told the Sydney Morning Herald that while individual events could not be attributed to climate change, the wild extremes being experienced on the continent were in keeping with scientists’ forecasts of more flooding associated with increased heavy rain events and more droughts as a result of high temperatures and more evaporation.

”On some measures, it’s the strongest La Nina in recorded history … [but] we also have record-high ocean temperatures in northern Australia, which means more moisture evaporating into the air,” he said. ”And that means lots of heavy rain.”

Regular commentator at this blog Luke is of a similar opinion and sent me two charts as supporting information.  Click on the images for a larger, better view.

Luke writes about the charts:

“The first shows the 3pm vapour pressure (VP) averaged over eastern Australian the 3pm vapour – a measure of humidity.   As one can see there is some correlation with eastern Australian rainfall.

“Also shown is Australian tropical sea surface temperatures (SST) averaged for the same period with vapour pressure at 3pm.

“Both SSTs and VP are the highest for the 2010 period – highest since 1970.

“These data are consistent with an enhanced AGW hydrological cycle i.e. much greater atmospheric water content and source of convection.

“I am not saying that AGW caused this La Nina but the data are consistent with AGW adding to the propensity for rainfall as suggested by CSIRO studies and AGW theory.

“Interestingly these January 2011 Brisbane and Fitzroy floods were not caused by tropical cyclones.

“The charts should be of interest to serious sceptics.”

Relevant CSIRO Report:
Abbs, D.J., McInnes, K.L. and Rafter, T. 2007, The impact of climate change on extreme rainfall and coastal sea levels over South East Queensland, Part 2: A high-resolution modelling study of the effect of climate change on the intensity of extreme rainfall events, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research – A report prepared for the Gold Coast City Council

Comment from David Karoly


97 Responses to “Flood Crisis Consistent with Accentuated Hydrological Cycle: A Note from Luke Walker”

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  1. Comment from: Luke

    Val – CSIRO would have been blooded by numerous attempts to sue them over research findings in all manner of areas. It’s their legal dept’s advice. The state of the science is what it is – errors and uncertainties stated? I for one don’t want too see precious research dollars squandered in profit seeking law suits by Asian legal hit squads.

    Why are you relying on computer projections – gee Val like the computer modelling calculations in biotech, drug design, aircraft design, hydrology. Perhaps you’d like to use an abacus or pencil and paper. Use of computer modelling is ubiquitous in all modern science. Do you actually think that climate science takes no empirical measurements – that they are not obsessed with model validation.

    And again you have not read the reports – it’s often not sea level per se – it’s what a storm surge on top of that will do. Try actually calmly reading some literature instead of deriving all your opinions from blogs. People like Quirk are just activists.

    Aynsley – yes dismissal of positive feedback would be a major issue. But surely you wouldn’t trust a raving hysteric like Nova to give you a complete story.

  2. Comment from: Will Nitschke

    “Equatorial Pacific SST during the past half-century (Fig. 4A) shows a clear warming trend, consistent with global warming. The trend pattern is “El Niño-like,” which means that the warming is stronger and the meridional extent larger in the east relative to the west.”

    “Likewise ENSO activity did not change strongly during the past century (see Fig. 2). Decadal-scale changes can be seen, but an obvious sustained long-term trend cannot be observed. In particular, ENSO activity was rather weak during the past decade, as noted above. However, the past 50 years show somewhat more variability than the 100 years before, but the quality of the SST observations, especially before 1970 when satellite data were not available, needs to be considered in this context. In summary, no clear evidence can be found in the SST observations of the last century for an obvious change in either the equatorial SST gradient or ENSO activity that would stick out above the internal background variability.”

  3. Comment from: val majkus

    LUKE The state of the science is what it is – errors and uncertainties stated? That’s why the disclaimer and because CSIRO BOM don’t want to be sued

    Then why rely upon them?

    The saying you are looking for is ‘errors and omissions excepted’ and that usually only applies to professional bills (accounts) where you see it as E&OE

    Not the advice for which the money is paid

    So why pay for advice which is so uncertain that it needs to bear a disclaimer because its legal advice have so advised it (if that’s correct);

  4. Comment from: Aynsley Kellow

    Then you go and spoil a sensible discussion with an ad hominem (or feminem). End of discussion.

  5. Comment from: Neville

    Luke I’ve got the raw numbers for rainfall for Eastern Australia from the BOM, see here above the graph.

    If you add up the years 1970 to 1990 you get average rainfall of 653mm per year.
    Then add up the years 1991 to 2010 and you get an average of 620mm per year.

    Your graph shows higher SST for the 1991 to 2010 years yet there is a reduction in rainfall of -33mm per year over that period. Rather wrecks your theory doesn’t it?

    The VP isn’t showing much of a trend but the SST certainly is, so I’d suggest you should stop pinning all your hopes on one year.

    BTW remove the last year for VP and rainfall on your graph and ithe trend starts to look very ordinary, or just about zip.

  6. Comment from: Neville

    Sorry I’ll try that BOM graph again.

  7. Comment from: val majkus
    Peter Ridd Professor of Physics at James Cook University and a scientific advisor to the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF).
    The limits of climate models

    In the end we are relying upon models which are based upon poorly understood physics and operating for conditions outside the range for which they have been tuned. They have been demonstrated to be not useful in making predictions on any timescale longer than a couple of months. Although the GCMs are of considerable scientific value in pushing ahead our understanding of climate physics, it is difficult to tell if they have any value in making predictions.

  8. Comment from: Neville

    Interesting info Val and if SST increased over the second half of a 41 year record you’d expect rainfall to increase over that 20 years.

    Just a pity for the theory that average rainfall actually decreased by 33 mm a year over that time.

  9. Comment from: val majkus

    Thanks Neville for that comment; have to go put my nose to the grindstone but I’ll ponder your comment as I do
    And I’ll look forward to Luke putting a credible argument overnight as to why computer modelling is so infallible in his view
    Myself I have doubts

    read this somewhere

    If in trouble, if in doubt
    run in circles, scream and shout

    maybe I’ll try that

  10. Comment from: Luke

    Aynsley – well I thought I was being kind. Look at the titles of her posts and graphics. If think dear Joanne is fair well good on ya. Listen to the style of commentary she presides over. But as you like it. Jeez I didn’t even lay in.

    Neville – good to see you’re working some numbers yourself. However the latter period you have mentioned is besieged with ENSO – it’s not just SSTs. You need a La Nina and on shore flow to get the expression. El Nino periods won’t favour east Aussie rainfall.

    It’s very simple – there is broadly an upward trend in tropical Australian SSTs – the La Nina has many signs of being exceptional – record Dec trade winds, Nino region OLR and near record SOI values. Additionally the land based VP is very high. These conditions would give rise to some exceptional rainfall storms which we have seen.

    As I said to Aynsley I’m not overclaiming on the result. Could just be chance. But I do like to tease you guys on disturbing data.

    However there are many things to ponder too like changes in STRi and SAM for southern Australia. El Nino events becoming Modoki. Lots going on. These latter comments drought related.

  11. Comment from: Luke

    Val – poorly understood physics – oh come now – to what extent. Don’t you find it remarkable that a computer model can reproduce patterns of atmospheric circulation – fronts, high and low pressure regions and ocean conditions. That if you drop the resolution you can produce cyclone like vortices. It’s frankly extraordinary. And far from playstation science.

    I didn’t say the models were without faults but for heavens sake don’t totally trivialise the science put into them. They’re broad exploratory tools and far from perfect. The models are far from infallible.

    The issue is whether they are of sufficient use to be useful for policy development. That’s a complex question.

  12. Comment from: Aynsley Kellow

    Sorry Luke – if you cannot conduct the discussion on reason and evidence, rather than ad homs, I’m wasting my time. Jo Nova could be the Devil incarnate, but that has no bearing on her point.

  13. Comment from: el gordo

    I agree SAM is a major driver, when ‘positive’ it brings flooding rains to southern Australia and South Africa.

  14. Comment from: el gordo

    And it has been predominantly ‘positive’ .

  15. Comment from: el gordo

    That is, the AAO is also fairly positive.

  16. Comment from: el gordo

    Ian Lowe, in today’s Age, talks about drowning in a hothouse.

    ‘There is no obvious place to dam the Fitzroy River to protect Rockhampton. The proposed Traveston Crossing dam would have been an ecological disaster and would not have protected Gympie, just as Brisbane was flooded despite the enormous amounts of water stored in the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams.

    ‘We need a concerted program of action to reduce greenhouse pollution urgently. It is irresponsible to be planning new coal mines or coal-fired power stations when we can see the tragic consequences of rapid climate change.’

    Well, I’m speechless…..he links the two pars without taking breath.

  17. Comment from: Neville

    Luke I think you’re caught in a religious trap and don’t really want to observe or even know the facts.

    So let’s add up just the la nina years 1970 to 2010, eleven in total.
    The first 5 returned an average of 749mm (1970 to 1988 ) and the last 6 returned an average of 743mm, ( 1996 to 2010 ) so no trend there either even including the 1009mm of 2010.

    Of course the 5 la ninas from 1988 to 2009 returned a much lower 690mm a year average.
    Fully 49 mm a year less than the earlier part of the record, so you’re pinning your hopes on only one year yet again.

    So the facts so far over the 41 year record easily disprove your theory completely, but because of your religious faith I’m sure you will once again twist and squirm to get off the hook.

    But please show me where I’m factually wrong using the rainfall record but please no more BS.

  18. Comment from: Luke

    Why would there be a trend?

    Neville you’re really such an amateur at this stuff forgetting everything else told to you before.

    (1) what I said above – it’s a record breaking super la nina in many respects
    (2) la ninas not delivering in the last decade has been well discussed – all of which you sneered at at the time – sub tropical ridge intensity, SAM, and strength of the event, warm phase PDO are all factors
    (3) which la ninas have cyclones – which don’t and to regionally where
    (4) PDO now changed and this event very strong – SAM has changed so fronts useful – and east coast fuelled by high atmospheric moisture and good onshore flow

    What’s all this twaddle you’re on about in terms of religious faith – I said I was not “overclaiming” the result.

    It is actually you who has the religion old mate – you’re so desperate to come with a half-arsed explanation for everything – e.g. ignoring facts and using whole of MDB rainfall graphs when the focus is not whole of MDB and well discussed in the science

    Like with the pro AGW case some stuff doesn’t fit. I’ve just given you some interesting data. I’m not overclaiming the result. Most people just say “hmmm interesting” and “we’ll see” – don’t have a pink fit.

  19. Comment from: John Sayers

    Luke – you keep saying “with no cyclone” yet you totally ignored my post regarding cyclone Tasha.

    read the article, it was Tasha that triggered the whole Queensland event.

    You also ignored my post of the BoM report on the 1974 flood where they describe the weather patterns and it’s a similar situation to what has just occurred. It’s just weather repeating itself. The 74 flood was also preceded by a long drought 63 – 68, (El Nino years) 3 year break (la Nina years) , then another El Nino drought 72 – 73. Then 74 flood! La Nina year.

  20. Comment from: James Mayeau

    hey James – let’s irrigate the desert – we can pour the water into the sand 1,000s of km away – wouldn’t that be fun. And you yanks could capture your hurricanes in a pocket handkerchief and do the same.

    yeah well we do. The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego are both built in the desert, on the coast, but the coast of a desert region. Most of the population of California lives on water imported from somewhere else, mostly Arizona but also from Northern California.
    On the one side the people get drinking water, on the other they get money and fewer flash floods.

    The Romans invented the aqueduct. Maybe it would work for you folks. I mean it’s a proven tech.

    Here’s how we do it.

  21. Comment from: Polyaulax

    EL Gordo,re Ian Lowe. It’s no secret that he accepts the enhanced water cycle outcome of increased ACO2. It’s his rejection of nuclear that I find unrealistic.

    He’s got a point about the Fitzroy.The river basin could have a long,long flood barrage thrown across somewhere up from Rockhampton,but the result would be an enormous sea of a thousand km2 or more backed up for even longer than this current flood. That’s how big flood flow volumes can be up there.I suspect this current flood,while not the highest at Rocky, is the biggest in terms of sheer volume and duration above major level at the gauge. Maybe Tony knows,or I need to request the data from DERM

    He is spot on about Traveston,which was at best to be finished in 2011. Traveston first stage was small [173GL],with very little mitigation capacity.Any mitigation capacity would come at stage 2 planned for 2035. Traveston 1 would have been 100% full like all the other dams in SE Qld,and the flood would have gone right through to Gympie any way. Also major flooding below Traveston is possible without falls above Traveston.

  22. Comment from: Polyaulax

    No,Lowe and I are wrong about Traveston 1 because there was to be air space for a flood. It may have taken most major floods in Gympie down a few good metres.

    Though I reckon Traveston in toto was flawed. I always thought the estimated yield to storage ratio was a little starry-eyed despite the security of the catchment.

  23. Comment from: TonyfromOz

    I only moved here to Rocky in August, and the learning curve has been steep indeed over the last three/four weeks.
    This is my Post I know, (bad form) but it has a wonderful map of the whole Basin. Click on the map for a larger image and it shows all 9 of the major rivers. It also shows all the dams weirs barrages etc.

    There is a long history of flooding here, but this is the first time in recorded history that all rivers and creeks in the basin have all been in major flood, hence the huge volume of water flowing past Rocky, two Sydharbs a day, for the last 24 days and for more days to come.

    Here is a historical chart of flooding in the Rockhampton, half way down the page there at the link.


  24. Comment from: Luke

    John Sayers – concede on Rocky but not on SEQ old son. You of course will need to justify it to yourself. 1974 Wanda came in over north of Noosa …. almost direct hit.

    Yea – good on ya James – just submit your hydrology report for a giggle. Dams in SEQ transporting water to the Simpson Desert – don’t call us – we’ll call you mate.

  25. Comment from: James Mayeau

    My bad. I was just checking the wiki and it wasn’t the Romans who invented the aqueduct, it was the Assyrians 800 years before Christ.

    The Iraqis ancestors.

    So, I wouldn’t pump it all the way to the Simpson desert.

    You have the Aramac river that’s going in that direction anyhow, so you just have to dig a tunnel through a mountain , a hundred and fifty miles or so of conduit and bing, you’ve turned the Great Artesian Basin into the bread basket of Australia (Jesus, only a 150 miles. Why do they call you diggers? Before Thomas Jefferson was in the grave my ancestors had dug a canal from New York to Cleveland. – But ok I don’t want to bash on ya. But Jesus though.)

    Or you could go the other way and install drain plugs along the Fitsroy. Horrible waste of water though.

    Now on to funding. The coal miners are being inconvenienced a bit I heard. Them along with the city of Brisbane, that should cover the freight.

  26. Comment from: TonyfromOz

    Best leg pull I’ve heard in years!


  27. Comment from: val majkus

    Warwick Hughes has a Guest article by Pat Frank
    Dr Frank says
    We’ve all read the diagnosis, for example here, that the global climate has suffered “unprecedented warming,” since about 1900. The accepted increase across the 20th century is 0.7 (+/-)0.2 C. As an experimental chemist, I always wondered at that “(+/-)0.2 C.” In my experience, it seemed an awfully narrow uncertainty, given the exigencies of instruments and outdoor measurements. I did a study which led to the paper that is just out in Energy and Environment [5]. Here’s the title and the abstract:

    Title: “Uncertainty in the Global Average Surface Air Temperature Index: A Representative Lower Limit”
    (abstract follows and conclusion)
    This lower limit of instrumental uncertainty implies that Earth’s fever is indistinguishable from zero Celsius, at the 1σ level, across the entire 20th century.

    There’s a link in a comment to the above article by Geoff Sherrington
    A Preliminary Investigation of Temperature Screen Design and Their
    Impacts on Temperature Measurements

    and as for me I’m still running in circles screaming and shouting; I can’t believe we’re getting so heated over such an infinitesmal temperature rise (if it exists at all)

  28. Comment from: Luke

    Especially for you Val

    As for infinitesmal temperature rises – it’s not the mean – it’s the changes in extremes, changes in circulation systems that matter – the small absolute change in mean is an old ruse argument. Indeed you only need a couple of degrees in sea surface temperature change to disrupt the whole cycle of rainfall in the southern hemisphere. How much to start an ice age onset. Trying thinking about it Val !

    Energy & Environment – lightly reviewed bunk. Use to start your BBQ.

  29. Comment from: val majkus

    Now I’m really confused Luke and impressed with your sidestep

    you say if I understand it that to ascertain if AGW is happening we should look at sea surface temperatures and not land surface temperatures and I assume you are in that case discounting global average temperatures,
    or are you saying that because AGW is happening then sea surface temperature becomes the yardstick as to its extremes or otherwise

    in either case here’s a graph which suggests no significant warming during the past 8 years.

    If in doubt run in circles scream and shout – I think I’ll just keep on doing that

  30. Comment from: Luke

    Nope – simply that land and sea temperatures tell the same general story in terms of trend. Others have now repeated mainstream analyses and gained the same answer. As do boreholes. As do satellite measurements.

    You could have said “no significant” warming many times in the last 150 years. There are annual, inter-annual, decadal wiggles and volcanism to consider. But the trend is basically upwards.

    And again – it’s not the average temperature change in itself – that’s just “an index” – it’s what happens to extremes of temperature, storms, cyclones, and rainfall and circulation changes (e.g. El Nino, Southern Annular Mode, Indian Ocean Dipole)

    Let’s look at a sceptic favourite data set – what does it tell you?

    Cooling oceans?

  31. Comment from: val majkus

    Yep, I looked at that site Luke; thanks for that
    Now questions (cos I’m still confused)
    a) what do you say is the land surface temp trend
    b) same for ocean temperature trend – okay go as deep as you want

  32. Comment from: Luke

    Val – here is an interesting analysis looking at two almost independent data sets – the sea surface temperature set (SST) and night time marine air temperature (NMAT) – no land data sets – no heat island or shonky met station issues.

    A principal components analysis (PCA) reveals the main trend in the global data is a centennial warming signal (EOF1).

    A second order EOF (EOF2) being the Pacific decadal signal (IPO ~ PDO)

    A more recent analysis shows the 3rd EOF – EOF3 is the signal of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation

    No land data sets in these analyses.

    So there is an unambiguous long scale warming across most of the world. AGW says that greenhouse gases are responsible for the last 30-40 years

  33. Comment from: Luke

    Whoops paper being

  34. Comment from: hunter

    Yes, it is clear from here Luke knows his side is full of it- he is almost acting civil in multiple answers. Guilt will do that to one.

  35. Comment from: Llew Jones

    It seems that those who claim that AGW is likely to produce more extreme floods in and around Brisbane are simply not au fait with the rainfall history of the region. The question that may be asked is, more extreme than what? The really big one which reached the highest ever levels in some locations and perhaps also in terms of the sum total of the regional precipitation, was 1893.

    The atmospheric CO2 concentration in that year was about 296ppm, which for all intents and purposes is the pre IR level of about 280. If one likes to check the BOM data there is a record of periodically occurring big floods before 1893. There was a particularly big one about 1820 to 1824 when the CO2 concentration was 284. The then still observable evidence indicated that the flood level was around 50 feet (15 meters).

    Of course 1893 was more extreme than 2011 and 1974 as cyclone activity was involved. Should not we have expected contributing cyclone activity to have been increasing prevalent through the 20thC as atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were on the rise?

    One surely could be forgiven for thinking that not only Karoly but a branch of the CSIRO need to brush up on the BOM history of this very flood prone region and state.

  36. Comment from: Luke

    Hunter – I love you for being the representative to your creed that you are. Pls don’t stop being stupid and content free.

    Anyway Val as luck would have it

  37. Comment from: hunter

    The only content free posts going on are the defenders of the failed flood and Bush management policies. It is just that like most bureaucrats, he must use many words to accomplish saying nothing.
    Think of Polonius from ‘Hamlet’.
    Luke’s Polonius, however, is not merely capable of using words at great length, but of inflicting and defending great harm with his interminable bloviation as well.

  38. Comment from: Luke

    Pls cite where I have defended these “failed policies” and “inflicted” great harm – how do you stay upright during the day. Do they make you wear a nappy at your institution?

  39. Comment from: John Sayers

    Ok Luke – so you concede that Rocky was triggered bycyclone Tasha. In the 74 flood the dying cyclone triggered a move of the low depression southward , just as it happened last week.

    The major flood in Tabulam and the Clarence river also occurred in 74. I spoke today with farmers who rode horseback to check the flood levels and moved the cattle involved etc.

    This low also travelled down to Eucha as it did in 74 and all the records down there are breaking the 74 flood.

    How on earth do you see some CO2 fantasy in all these clear repetitions of the typical Australian Climate?

  40. Comment from: Luke

    Yes John sure mate – we’ll just ignore all the published papers. We’ll juts ignore how the supercell formed. That’s OK. You just keep misrepresenting the message and distorting what the science is saying.

  41. Comment from: hunter

    You have done nothing but shred the critics of alarmist bullshit for the time I have seen your writing.
    You have backed alarmist crap as if you were in the crap purchasing business.
    Now that actual lives and property are being lost at both ends of Australian normal weather extremes you are suddenly so (relatively) reasonable.
    When it comes to managing bush, you either allow reasonable cutting or not.
    When it comes to improving dams and flood systems to contain known flood levels, you either build or you don’t.
    Years after the bad decisions are made, don’t come in parsing around and talking about how clever you were to distract from you picking the wrong side.
    The distortion is all coming from you and your need to cover your ass.
    The alarmists and enviro extremists were not only wrong, they were dangerously wrong.
    You have been consistently on their side.
    You chose, and now you want to just sort of ease back into the town and talk about how you did not know what was going on at that place on the edge of town.

  42. Comment from: Luke

    Evidence to support rant = zero

  43. Comment from: Ron Pike

    Not zero Luke,
    But as claimed by hunter.
    All of us at this blog have read your wild rants and assumptions for years and every time you get caught short or totally discredited you change the basis of argument or totally change the discussion.
    All you have ever been consistent with is personal abuse.
    Hardly the stuff of reasoned debate.
    From my memory all of your doomsday predictions have been proven wrong by events.
    You and Tim Flannery would make a perfect pair of Hanrahans.

  44. Comment from: Luke

    Evidence to support assertions = zero

  45. Comment from: el gordo

    From the Abbs et al. paper:

    ‘There is high agreement on decreases in the intensity of 24-hour and 72-hour extreme rainfall events in the hinterland north of Brisbane and the coastal regions of northern New South Wales for 2030. By 2070, the regions of likely decreases in extreme rainfall intensity have almost disappeared and most regions are likely to experience an increase in the intensity of extreme rainfall events.’

    In other words, there will be fewer robust cyclones and decaying cyclones impacting on SE Queensland and NE New South Wales in the run-up to 2030. Then conditions slowly deteriorate up to 2070 when it will be inclement and presumably a lot more cyclones.

    This yarn is based on computer models and doesn’t hold water.

  46. Comment from: el gordo

    ‘The issue is whether they are of sufficient use to be useful for policy development. That’s a complex question.’

    Models are useful tools for weather forecasting a week ahead, but with long range forecasting they fail because of the inherent warming bias.

    It’s a random walk or possibly order masquerading as randomness. Either way, take out AGW and the models will work for climate change too.

  47. Comment from: wes george

    Just for the record,

    Luke got banned from Jo Nova’s blog for repeated using foul language and apparently commenting while off his mind on whatever he uses. And if you ever been to Jo’s you know you gotta get pretty damn foul to get ejected.

    Furthermore, it should be noted that Luke use to spruik a drier Australia due to a suppressed hydrological cycle forced by AGW. But that was during the last Big Dry.

    Hypocrisy, Luke is thy name!


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