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About That Russian Heat Wave

By Keith Kloor
Mar 10, 2011 10:09 PMNov 20, 2019 6:02 AM


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So, let's take a short stroll down memory lane, when we saw headlines like this last summer:

Climate Experts Agree: Global Warming Caused Russian Heat Wave

Now, let's hop over (it's not far, either) to this place, where the owner was upset that the NYT wasn't connecting the Hell and High Water dots to the Russian heat wave, as well as other sweltering episodes happening around the same time elsewhere around the world. In fairness, the intensity of the Russian heat wave was so unfamiliar to Russians that even the country's leaders started sounding like Joe Romm. Alas, some stories don't stand the test of time--or science, as this NOAA release makes clear in its headline and opening sentence:

The deadly Russian heat wave of 2010 was due to a natural atmospheric phenomenon often associated with weather extremes, according to a new NOAA study.

Further down, here's the money passage:

While a contribution to the heat wave from climate change could not be entirely ruled out, if it was present, it played a much smaller role than naturally occurring meteorological processes in explaining this heat wave's intensity.

Of course, In the next breath comes the obligatory but-this-is-a-window-into-the-future:

The researchers cautioned that this extreme event provides a glimpse into the region's future as greenhouse gases continue to increase, and the signal of a warming climate, even at this regional scale, begins to emerge more clearly from natural variability in coming decades. Climate models evaluated for the new study show a rapidly increasing risk of such heat waves in western Russia, from less than one percent in 2010, to 10 percent or more by the end of this century.

And there's nothing wrong with saying that. It's reasonable speculation based on the science. [NOAA's press office corrects me, saying "this 'glimpse into the future' is far from speculation--it is an important result of the study."] But the people who like to tell scary stories don't see much point in being circumspect. So far, no acknowledgment from this usual gang of storytellers that maybe they got a little too carried away on this one. [For some media coverage on the NOAA study, see here, here, here, and here.]

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