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Flooding and global warming

The huge blizzard that welcomed my weekend in Wisconsin and the rest of the Eastern upper half of the US is going to cause record flooding.

The Canadian storm that battered the Midwest and the Northeast brought frigid temperatures and left some areas buried under two to three feet of snow.

But advance notice of the storm and its timing — on the weekend, when people were home from work — dampened its impact. Officials said cities had ample warning to call out snow crews, and customers had plenty of time late Friday and Saturday morning to stock up on food and other necessities.

Officials from Illinois to New York were increasingly concerned about a new threat as all the snow from what the National Weather Service said could end up as one of the five biggest storms in a century began to melt later in the week.

The storm hit first last week in the Midwest, where jostling ice jams in partly frozen rivers had already been causing localized flooding. The foot of snow that fell on parts of the region was expected to significantly worsen by midweek, when rain and temperatures above freezing begin melting the ice.

Ideally, a gradual thaw would allow jammed-up ice to recede safely, but the weather service said the rain and warmer temperatures could create “the worst-case scenario”: a quick breakup of the ice jams, potentially causing record floods.

The weather service issued flood warnings and watches along several rivers in Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Indiana. Affected rivers included the Kankakee, St. Joseph, Ohio, Tuscarawas, Grand and Mississippi.

Floods caused by melting snow were already being reported Sunday along the Kankakee River in Indiana, particularly in Lake and Porter counties and at the Illinois state line. Several homes were surrounded by water in the resort area of Shelby and Sumava, where the river reached 2 feet above flood stage over the weekend.

In Michigan, a large ice jam formed by previous storms reached at least 5 miles, from Grand Rapids into Grandville. The weather service said it would reach far up the river, threatening an untold number of communities with floodwaters; some residents along the river could reach their homes only on foot. The plows could not keep up” with the snow, Sweeney said. “We were getting 60-mph winds.”

The National Weather Service noted that many areas saw the most snowfall ever recorded there for a Jan. 22 and 23. By the time the total snowfall is tabulated, the storm could take its place as one of the five largest snowfalls in the Northeast in a century.

“Accumulations over the two-day period not only surpassed the average snowfall for the entire month of January but will also equal a great percentage of the annual average” in those areas, the weather service said. “For southern New England, this will be a historic snowstorm that ranks among the storms with the highest total accumulations.”

What exactly is making the weather go to such extremes? Despite the claims of some world leaders, the past can be a sign of things to come. Our current president chooses business over environment, saying the Kyoto protocol would damage the American economy(Read: some companies are paying him big bucks to make sure the Kyoto treaty is not endorsed by the American gov't.) But, their are plenty of people voicing the need to make drastic changes.

Report: Global warming approaching critical point
'An ecological time-bomb is ticking away'

Monday, January 24, 2005 Posted: 3:59 PM EST (2059 GMT)

LONDON, England (AP) -- Global warming is approaching the critical point of no return, after which widespread drought, crop failure and rising sea-levels would be irreversible, an international climate change task force warned Monday.

The report, "Meeting the Climate Challenge," called on the G-8 leading industrial nations to cut carbon emissions, double their research spending on green technology and work with India and China to build on the Kyoto Protocol.

"An ecological time-bomb is ticking away," said Stephen Byers, who co-chaired the task force with U.S. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, and is a close confidant of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "World leaders need to recognize that climate change is the single most important long term issue that the planet faces."

The independent report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, the Center for American Progress in the United States and The Australia Institute, is timed to coincide with Blair's commitment to advance international climate change policy during Britain's G-8 presidency.

Byers said it was vital Blair secured U.S. cooperation in tackling climate change. U.S. President George W. Bush has rejected the Kyoto accord, arguing that the carbon emission cuts it demands would damage the U.S. economy.

"What we have got to do then is get the Americans as part of the G-8 to engage in international concerted effort to tackle global warming," said Byers. "If they refuse to do that then other countries will be reluctant to take any steps."

According to the report, urgent action is needed to stop the global average temperature rising by 2 degrees Celsius above the level in 1750 -- the approximate start of the Industrial Revolution when mankind first started significantly polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Beyond a 2 degrees rise, "the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly" the report said, adding there would be a risk of "abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change."

It warned of "climatic tipping points" such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down.

No accurate temperature readings were available for 1750, the report said, but since 1860, global average temperature had risen by 0.8 percent to 15 degrees Celsius.

The two degrees rise could be avoided by keeping the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 400 parts per million (ppm). Current concentrations of 379 ppm "are likely to rise above 400 ppm in coming decades and could rise far higher under a business-as-usual scenario," the report warned.

The task force urges all G-8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and to shift agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels.

The report recommends wider international use of emission trading schemes which are already in use in the European Union, under which unused carbon dioxide quotas are sold. The profit motive is expected to drive investment in new technology to cut emissions further.

The task force of senior politicians, scientists and business figures was established in March 2004. Its chief scientific adviser is Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The British government welcomed the report, which mirrors many of the suggestions already floated by Blair in the build up to Britain's G-8 presidency.

Blair has acknowledged the importance of U.S. cooperation, but conceded Washington is unlikely to sign up to Kyoto. Instead he is pursuing international commitment to developing new environmentally friendly technology.

So, Washington will not change their policy of business over climate change, and the rest of the world knows and does nothing. The 2 degree threshold is particularly interesting given that in my previous post a prominent scientist testified to Congress that the minimum increase projected in the century is 2 degrees. The minimum! What does the American government have planned for the near future? Is it possible the furthering restrictions of civil liberties and increasingly intolerant neo-conservative policies are planned with the knowledge that in the future, a lockdown will occur when the @#*! hits the fan?