David Leonhardt of the New York Times denounces “A flood of lies” because it rained hard in Washington, D.C. on July 8. The lies are, of course, coming from Republicans, especially Donald Trump. Leonhardt says the rain is exceptionally heavy and such events are “the new normal”. And the data say otherwise.
According to Leonhardt, “Extreme rain is the new normal, as I’ve written before. Warm air can carry more water than cold air, and climate change has warmed the air. No wonder the number of extreme rainstorms has jumped by roughly one third since the early 1980s, according to one measure.” And what measure would that be?
There does seem to have been an increase in rain in much of the eastern United States in the last 120 years. And doubtless the causes would be complex were climate change not invoked to make it all simple. (For what it’s worth, which isn’t much in this debate, the authors of the American Meteorological Society study showing that increase say “Atmospheric models forced by observed [Sea Surface Temperatures] and fully coupled models forced by historical anthropogenic forcing do not robustly simulate twentieth-century fall wetting in the SE-Gulf.”) But the thing is, the increase has been primarily in the fall. And July isn’t in the fall. So it’s not the new normal… unless you count journalists panicking over misrepresented science as the new normal.
Another study of this phenomenon looks at the unsatisfactory performance of various computer models and ends up saying “the observed record and historical model experiments were used to investigate changes in the recent past. In part because of large intrinsic variability, no evidence was found for changes in extreme precipitation attributable to climate change in the available observed record.” So the new normal is the old normal. At least when it comes to rain rather than rhetoric.
Leonhardt continues to exhibit the new rhetorical normal, specifically the it’s-not-directly-linked-to-climate-but-it-is thing: “Is every one of these storms a result of climate change? Of course not. But the trend is. Days like yesterday in Washington — or floods like the ones that the Midwest, Houston, Florida and many other places have endured in recent years — are becoming the very frightening new normal. In response, President Trump has decided to make things worse… He is also lying…”
Political dishonesty is sadly not the new normal. It’s been with us since the invention of government. But if David Leonhardt is that concerned about people who say things that aren’t true, he needs to take another look at rainfall in the eastern United States.