Obama just plain wrong about North Dakota floods.March 29, 2009
Scientific American continues to embarrass itself with its online reporting of President Obama’s insights concerning flooding of the Red River in North Dakota. They report “President Obama says potentially historic flood levels in North Dakota are a clear example of why steps need to be taken to stop global warming….” and quote the President as saying in his usual articulate way:
“If you look at the flooding that’s going on right now in North Dakota and you say to yourself, ‘If you see an increase of two degrees, what does that do, in terms of the situation there?'”
Scientific American has made it pretty clear in the past where their scientific political leanings are, but this may be a new low, even for them. It is sad to see this once great magazine so severely dumbed down in the last few years. In their haste to continue to cash in on the global warming hysteria they forgot to decided not to include a few salient facts.
Take a look at this very nice poster, “A History of Flooding in the Red River Basin,” from the USGS. Click on the image to enlarge it (the enlarged image is about 5 MB). Read the box along the right side of the poster.
The box is titled “Factors contributing to flooding in the Red River Basin” and it lists “Landform Factors” and “Weather Factors.” I have reproduced the list below with the text from the poster in brown and the evidence, in black, supporting each factor in the case of the current flooding.
Factors contributing to flooding in the Red River Basin
- A relatively shallow and meandering river channel… This is essentially an unchanging fact of life and is no different this year than other years.
- A gentle slope (averaging 0.5 to 1.5 feet per mile) that inhibits channel flow and encourages overland flooding or water “ponding” (especially on even, saturated ground) in the basin. The slope of the ground is unchanged from year to year. But the ground was saturated by heavy rains all through the fall. Look at the monthly weather summaries from the North Dakota State Climate Office (NDSCO) for September, October, November and December. Look at the National Weather Service Reports for Grand Forks for September, October and November of 2008.
- The northerly direction of flow-flow in the Red River travels from south (upstream) to north (downstream). The direction of flow becomes a critical factor in the spring when the southern (upstream) part of the Red River has thawed and the northern (downstream) part of the channel is still frozen. As water moves north toward the still frozen river channel, ice jams and substantial backwater flow and flooding can occur. This is exactly what happened all along the Red River. It also has happened along other rivers in North Dakota. Along the Missouri River in Bismarck explosives were used to break flood causing ice jams.
- Above-normal amounts of precipitation in the fall of the year that produce high levels of soil moisture, particularly in flat surface areas, in the basin. Again, look at the monthly weather summeries from the North Dakota State Climate office for September, October, November and December.
- Freezing of saturated ground in late fall or early winter, before significant snowfall occurs, that produces a hard, deep frost that limits infiltration of runoff during snowmelt. Starting in December temperatures have been very low in North Dakota. The North Dakota State Climate Office (NDSCO) reported for December that “The average monthly temperatures were below normal across the State. The departure from normal temperature ranged from -10 in the north central to -6 in the south central part of the State. Mohall, Bottineau, Huffland, Harvey, Crosby and Karlsruhe all saw temperatures in the -30s. For January the NDSCO reported “extreme arctic cold temperatures. The National Weather Service (NWS) recorded a record -44°F on January 15th at Bismarck.”
- Above-normal winter snowfall in the basin. The December report of the NDSCO said “Fargo, Grand Forks, and Bismarck received record December snowfall.” For January they said “Heavy snow fell across the State during the first half of January setting National Weather Service (NWS) daily precipitation records at Williston, Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks…The monthly total percent of normal precipitation was 150% to 300% of normal in the northwest, central, and parts of the south central regions.” Just as bad or worse for February according to the NDSCO; “All areas across the State had above normal precipitation. The East half of the state had primarily between 150% and 300% of normal precipitation. The West half of the state had between 150% to 500% plus, percent of normal precipitation.”
- Above-normal precipitation during snowmelt. This was irrelevant because of the huge amount of rain in the spring and snowfall during the previous three months
- Above normal temperatures during snow melt. The flooding started when daily high temperatures went from a much below average regime to a much above average regime around March 12th, as shown in this graph.
The Red River finally crested at about 40.8 feet, slightly higher than the previous record of 40.1 feet in 1897. I think that even Barack Obama and Scientific American would agree that the 1897 flood was not due to global warming. So where is it between 40.1 feet and 40.8 feet that global warming becomes obviously responsible?
Remember the old Mark Twain saying, “Everybody is talking about the weather, but nobody is doing anything about it?” That was back in the good old days. I wouldn’t mind so much if the president were just talking about the weather, because then we could just chalk it up to a political hack. But I’m afraid he is going to actually try to do something about it, like getting people panicked about global warming, and then using the issue to socialize the economy of the country.
As for Scientific American, they have no excuse. It was totally irresponsible of them to be completely credulous when Obama linked this flood to global warming. The conditions that lead to flooding in North Dakota have been known for years, as evidenced by the USGS poster. The folks at Scietific American could have done their homework and figured it out just as easily as I did.