Climate Change: US Drought More Costly Than Hurricane Sandy?
The current drought pattern may be the costliest U.S. natural disaster of 2012 and 2013, according to experts with Harris-Mann Climatology.
If the drought pattern continues, its damage estimates could be near $200 billion, making it the country’s costliest natural disaster of 2012 and 2013– even more costly than Hurricane Sandy.
Harris-Mann points out, “major solar-induced drought patterns, often lasting nearly a full decade, have recurred across the midsection of the U.S. approximately every 80 years since at least the early 1600s. . .The last 80-year drought occurred in the Dust Bowl Era of the so-called ‘Dirty 1930s.’ This was one of the worst environmental disasters of the entire 20th Century anywhere in the world.”
Is this time different?
Likely yes. A study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research predicts that the drought in the southwest which started in 1999 will be permanent.
The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of NOAA confirms that globally the Wet Will Get Wetter and the Dry Drier? and in the following diagram shows how precipitation will increasingly decline in the US southwest in the coming century.
Canadian precipitation on the other hand increases, by as much as 30 percent according to some estimates.
As Statistics Canada points out, “heavy precipitation events may lead to greater flood damage”, and this runoff will be too fast too recharge aquifers, will be more damaging than beneficial to crops and often contaminates drinking water sources.
The dichotomies of drought and torrential storm damage are likely to be writ large in the annals of 21st Century disasters if the past year is any indication.
Another disaster in the making however is sea level rise. The Earth is warming which drives thermal expansion and the melting of land-based ice. Another factor is aquifer mining which is increasing in the effort to produce crops on land that is more and more desiccated by drought.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab points out; the largest contributor to the year-to-year fluctuation in sea levels is the temporary exchange of water mass between the land and the ocean.
In 2011 sea levels declined 5mm due to torrential rainfall in Australia, Brazil and the northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
Since mid-2011 however, the global oceans have risen approximately 10 mm per year, which is over three times the observed rate of 3.18 mm per year from 1993 to the present. Water drainage from, and the drying of the continents are the explanations given for this increase.
As was pointed out in, Climate Change and Anthropogenic Sea Level Potholes, there can be a perpetual sea level rise benefit derived from moving water from areas of excess to areas of drought to supplant aquifer pumping, which is compounded if some of this water is then used to recharge depleted aquifers.
The New York Times article, Safe Storage of Water? Go Underground, asserts that, “experts are urging cities to build reservoirs below the ground, where the water cannot evaporate and many of the difficulties associated with above-ground water storage are avoided.”
“It just makes so much more sense,” said Jim Lester, president of the Houston Advanced Research Center, a nonprofit research group. Among other advantages, he said, underground reservoirs are cheaper than their above-ground counterparts.”
It also makes sense as a sea level rise counter measure.
Before you can store water however, you have to find it where it is plentiful.
Each of the Canadian major diversion projects have a hydro electric component, which is the renewable energy source with the highest energy return on investment (EROI). In fact it has the highest EROI of any energy source according to a recent Stanford thesis.
Responses to this proposal have ranged from, “we need all of our water and have none to spare” to “just because we aren't STUPID enough to overuse and divert natures bounty, as the US has done in many places such as the Colorado not even reaching the sea anymore, doesn't mean Canadians will be as stupid.”
It seems to me, the solution to a $200 billion catastrophe that indication are is likely to perpetuate isn't something a friendly neighbour has any moral or justifiable right to withhold.
Doing so is also a case of cutting off one's nose to spite their face, considering Canada derives much of its off-season food supply from the very same regions experiencing drought.
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