12 January 2012

2011 Wettest and Driest in Technicolor- ClimateBites cross post.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

As the earth warms, “the wet get wetter and the dry get drier.” Over half the country suffered either drought (orange) or deluge (blue/fuschia) in 2011. Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog (12/12) summed it up:

“The combined fraction of the country experiencing either severe drought or extremely wet conditions was 56% averaged over the January – November period–the highest in a century of record keeping.

Map courtesy of NOAA, via Jeff Masters and Heidi Cullen. (Climate communicators: Note how the artful use of color draws the viewer in and makes the key information — areas of drought or deluge — jump out.) And the climate take-away?

“Climate change science predicts that if the Earth continues to warm as expected, wet areas will tend to get wetter, and dry areas will tend to get drier–so this year’s side-by-side extremes of very wet and very dry conditions should grow increasingly common in the coming decades.”

In a warming world, earth’s water cycle speeds up (See “Drought & deluge: It’s the Water, Stupid!“) Drought devastates agriculture; just ask Texas cattle ranchers. After fast evaporation parches the South, prevailing winds blow the moisture-laden air northeastward. The result for Northeastern states: “When it rains, it pours.

Masters cites 2011 as “the wettest year in nearly 200 years of record keeping in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” Philadelphia wasn’t alone. Weather.com adds that “at least 20 locations from the Ohio Valley to New England have set a new record wet year.” Their report includes interactive maps of towns that set new records for wet or dry conditions. Masters summed it up this way: “If you weren’t washing away in a flood, you were baking in a drought in 2011.” Was 2011 a “sneak preview” of our climate future? —————————- Update 1/11/11: Vive la difference! For contrast, consider this more traditional map, also from NOAA (NESDIS). It also uses color. But which one catches your eye and makes you want to dive in and swim around?

This is a cross post, courtesy of my friend Tom Smerling at ClimateBites.