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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.

A History of Flooding in the Red River Basin by the USGS

"A History of Flooding in the Red River Basin" by the USGS

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

Landform factors:

  • 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.

Weather factors:

  • 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.

9 comments

  1. I agree that Global Warming is not the issue anymore. Being prepared for whatever nature has in mind is what has been forgotten. What humanity has contributed to all the natural cycles of Mother Earth is pollution. Mother Earth will always express herself, the ancients knew that and gave other explanations. Modern civilization has lost touch with earth and demonstrated it by becoming clueless to extreme cycles that we call disasters. They are disasters because we behave like they will never happen … we build on flood plains, on shallow coastland, beside volcanoes and on top of tectonic fault lines. The human race will have to recover some ancient understanding before it can be tuned into Mother Earth again.


  2. As a Fargoan, I laughed pretty hard when I heard Obama’s comments. I was outside in a blizzard sandbagging. I would have given anything at that moment for global warming to have ended the numbness in my fingers and the snow blowing in my face and the frozen sandbags that don’t conform well into building dikes…


  3. […] which is only a slightly smaller pile of bull droppings than the warming theory itself. As this refutation by a real scientist so amply explains, the flooding is best explained by […]


  4. Something is going on. I have lived here all my life and experienced two of the record level floods prior to the 1997 flood. That was the flood of 1975 and 1979.

    Since then we’ve had 97-2001-2006-2009 that have each bumped all other years in the previous 110 years of record keeping down the list.

    Now 7 of the top 10 flood levels come in the last 25 years.

    You don’t have to have a masters in statistics to see a correlation to SOMETHING? I don’t know if it is global warming changing weather patterns, but they are changing.


  5. Why is the original author of this thread not published?


  6. Sorry Tom, I got here about 5 layers deep from a Google search and thought the author got to rant and remain anonymous. Didn’t realize that the start of each topic was your own.


  7. Darin makes some good points. Please see a response to his comments here

    ClimateSanity


  8. What’s really shameful is that our president doesn’t seem to know about the natural processes that accompany the changes of season. Is that a result of growing up and being schooled in places where there’s virtually no change of season? (Indonesia and Hawaii)


  9. Climate change was the topic of BloG AcTioN Day last October 15, 2009. As you surf the internet today, you will still see so many articles about global warming. People are really affected now. So i guess, this post has been very timely. Let me share my own calamitous story – About three weeks ago, we were hit by two very strong storms. We never had that in decades. They left our country with still so many flooded areas, a lot were homeless and lost so many loved ones. Until now, we are still sweeping the streets from mud and tons of ruined appliances drowned from the flood. The effects of those twin storm were devastating. It’s not wet season for us here, but we we were informed that we are still expecting four more storms on this last quarter of the year. And just this morning, local news says, weeks from now, we are expecting a strong earthquake to hit the metro city including the nearby provinces. This is the same Metro city hit by the twin storms. And the news says its all because of global warming/climate change. I’m blithely about the issue before, but when the twin storm hit us plus all the bad news, I thought, I must do something too. To solve the global warming problem, it must be stormed at the national and international levels.But the total success is built upon the action of every individual, regardless of nationality, to conserve energy and live in a greener, cleaner community.



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