Newsweek Blames Midwest Floods on Global Warming

Newsweek's senior editor Sharon Begley has taken it upon herself to publicly declare the recent floods in the Midwest are being caused by global warming.

Those familiar with her work shouldn't be even slightly surprised by this, as Begley was the person responsible for the August 13, 2007, Newsweek cover story "Global-Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine" which evoked widespread criticism including from one of her fellow editors.

Regardless, Begley is at it again with an article in the upcoming issue of Newsweek disgracefully entitled, "Global Warming Is a Cause of This Year’s Extreme Weather" (emphasis added throughout):

The frequency of downpours and heat waves, as well as the power of hurricanes, has increased so dramatically that "100-year storms" are striking some areas once every 15 years, and other once rare events keep returning like a bad penny. As a result, some climatologists now say global warming is to blame. Rising temperatures boost the probability of extreme weather, says Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center and lead author of a new report from the Bush administration's Climate Change Science Program; that can "lead to the type of events we are seeing in the Midwest." There, three weeks of downpours have caused rivers to treat their banks as no more than mild suggestions. Think of it this way: if once we experienced one Noachian downpour every 20 years, and now we suffer five, four are likely man-made.

As is her typical modus operandi, Begley chose not to offer any balance concerning this recent report, or identify that top scientists around the world have been critical of both its findings and the lead author. As the University of Colorado at Boulder's Dr. Roger A. Pielke Sr. wrote on June 20:

This report perpetuates the use of assessments to promote a particular perspective on climate change, such as they write in the Executive Summary

“It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming.”

This claim conflicts with the 2005 National Research Council report

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp where a diversity of human climate forcings were found to alter global average radiative warming, including from atmospheric aersosols and due to the deposition of soot on snow and ice. The claim of an increase in atmospheric water vapor conflicts with a variety of observations as summarized on Climate Science (e.g. see).

To further illustrate the bias in the report, the assessment chose to ignore peer reviewed research that raises serious questions with respect to the temperature data that is used in their report. As just one example, they ignored research where we have shown major problems in the use of surface air temperature measurements to diagnose long term temperature trends including temperature extremes.

Pielke concluded (emphasis his):

Since this assessment is so clearly biased, it should be rejected as providing adequate climate information to policymakers. There also should be questions raised concerning having the same individuals preparing these reports in which they are using them to promote their own perspective on the climate, and deliberately excluding peer reviewed papers that disagree with their viewpoint and research papers. This is a serious conflict of interest.

Of course, Begley chose not to offer her readers an opposing view, and just continued with the hysteria:

The Midwest, for instance, suffered three weeks of intense rain in May and June, with more than five inches falling on some days. That brought a reprise of the area's 1993 flooding, which was thought to be a once-in-500-years event. The proximate cause was the western part of the jet stream dipping toward the Gulf of Mexico, then rising toward Iowa—funneling moisture from the gulf to the Midwest, says meteorologist Bill Gallus of (the very soggy) Iowa State University. The puzzle, he says, is why the trough kept reforming in the west, creating a rain-carrying conveyor belt that, like a nightmarish version of a Charlie Chaplin movie, wouldn't turn off. One clue is that global warming has caused the jet stream to shift north. That has brought, and will continue to bring, more tropical storms to the nation's north, and may push around the jet stream in other ways as well.

Interesting that Begley cited Bill Gallus, but chose to ignore some of his other opinions concerning the floods, as well as those of one of his colleagues. For instance, as reported by Radio Iowa on June 10 (emphasis added):

The recent spate of wet weather that's stormed over Iowa is very similar to what happened 15 years ago. Iowa State University meteorology professor Bill Gallus has reviewed the data.

"In many ways, the pattern we've had the last two or three weeks is very similar to what lasted for a much longer time in 1993," Gallus says. [...]

Iowa State University meteorologist Bill Gutowski says so-called "climate change" might be a part of this weather equation, but it's too soon to say. "There are physical reasons as well as results from models that indicate that we could expect more intense rainfall events occurring in a much warmer climate, but it'd be really hard to say based on what's going on this year that this is directly an outcome of global warming," Gutowski says. "We would need to see that the...frequency of those events is increasing."

According to Gutowski, one of the challenges researchers face is there are "natural fluctuations" in the climate system, so weather data from a single year is just not indicative of any trend.

Sadly, people like Begley choose to ignore such natural fluctuations, and, instead, blame everything on man.

On the other hand, Gallus did attach one cause of this year's flooding to humans, but not in a fashion that supported Begley's hysteria as reported by Iowa's Gazette on June 6 (emphasis added):

The rains' effect on Eastern Iowa streams and rivers is exaggerated by the lack of crops in nearby fields, said Bill Gallus, Iowa State University professor of meteorology.

"Most of the crops were delayed getting in," said Gallus. "That tends to lead to more water running off into streams and rivers" because there's no vegetation to catch runoff.

Such facts pertaining to the Midwest floods eluded Begley, much as they did with her following declaration: "Hurricanes have become more powerful due to global warming."

Really, Sharon? That's not what hurricane experts such as William Gray and Christopher Landsea believe. In fact, if you've been paying attention, even some of the folks cited by Nobel Laureate Al Gore have changed their minds concerning a connection between global warming and tropical storms including Kerry Emanuel and Tom Knutson.

But why should their opinions matter when you're on a roll?

Of course, the last time Begley was so reckless with her reporting, one of her colleagues, contributing editor Robert J. Samuelson, called the piece "fundamentally misleading" and "highly contrived."

We can only hope her most recent addition to this debate is similarly derided.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.