If you get your science from celebrities, then you will know that the drought in California is man-made and will never end. That noted climate scientist Leonardo DiCaprio, at the 2016 London premier of his eminently forgettable “Before the flood”, said “the clock has sort of struck the final hour” (the “sort of” being the sort of letdown you get when many actors go sort of off-script) and offered as proof that “my hometown” was seeing “a massive, unprecedented drought that will not reverse itself”. Of course the skies promptly opened (unlike the historical records that would have shown him worse droughts a century and a half earlier) then closed again. And opened again. And closed, leading to another California drought that would never end and did this spring. With a wintery blast that wasn’t climate change at all, just weather, unless it was bad in which case well duh climate.
DiCaprio’s views were boldly conventional at the time, shocking in a Hollywood celebrity. There were all sorts of headlines like “California Drought Is Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say” (New York Times, August 21, 2015) and text like “Global warming caused by human emissions has most likely intensified the drought in California by 15 to 20 percent, scientists said on Thursday, warning that future dry spells in the state are almost certain to be worse than this one as the world continues to heat up.”
As was the reverse pivot by 2017 to “A Climate Change Warning for California's Dams” which would be overwhelmed by increased rain because “Scientists have said for years that a warming atmosphere should lead to more intense and frequent storms in many regions.” (Also New York Times, Feb. 14, 2017; the headline has been changed since.)
Now to be fair the 2015 version bobbed and weaved:
“Even though the findings suggest that the drought is primarily a consequence of natural climate variability, the scientists added that the likelihood of any drought becoming acute is rising because of climate change. The odds of California suffering droughts at the far end of the scale, like the current one that began in 2012, have roughly doubled over the past century, they said.”
Though of course they made sure to have it both ways; as early as 2007 the Ottawa Citizen intoned that “As scientists forecast a future of storms, droughts and rising oceans, the only climate questions left are moral: Have Canadians the moral right to drive a car to work? To keep homes toasty in January? To trim lawns with power machinery?” (Feb. 3, 2007 though not available online except as quoted here.) The only questions left are moral. So never mind “Is it going to rain more, or less, if climate change changes climate?” That stuff is for deniers.
BTW when Euronews.green asked on January 25 “New York City is about to set a snow-free record: Is climate change to blame?” you didn’t win a prize for guessing that yes, it was. (Unlike 1973, when it didn’t snow there until January 29.) But when “Storm brings snow, heavy rain to Southern California” it’s just a “cold front turbocharged by tropical precipitation”. (As with deadly snow in Japan.)
Same with the snow that did arrive in New York in February, of course. And not only there. In March, as spring arrived or didn’t:
“A major winter storm dumped several feet of snow on parts of the Northeast, knocking out power at one point to more than 250,000 customers, with more snow on the way Wednesday, forecasters said. No deaths have been reported in the nor’easter that has been hitting New England and other states. Many in New England woke up to neighborhoods blanketed in white Wednesday morning with 3 feet of snow recorded in Moriah, Stony Creek and Palenville, New York, as well as in Marlboro, Vermont, and Colrain, Massachusetts.”
And the stuff in California is even “’snow’ much fun”. Unless it’s bad. Then we get things like:
“Storms keep hammering California and this could soon become a problem/ Concerns are growing about a possible series of warmer storms that could melt snow and trigger flooding”.
Still, it must be good that water fell from sky, right? Because there was this never-ending drought due to human action so when it rained really hard due to human action at least there was water. No. It’s always bad. So NBC’s “Climate In Crisis” section devoted to there always being a climate crisis said on March 4 that:
“The West just got blanketed in snow, but its water problems aren't over/ Many places, including the crucial Colorado Basin, have racked up such dramatic water deficits that a single snow season can’t forestall dire supply concerns.”
And showed a car in a ditch for good measure.
Mind you, it did concede that:
“Paul Miller, a service coordination hydrologist for the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, said the Colorado Basin regions are having seasons that are among the top snowpack amounts since records started being kept, which goes back as much as 60 years.”
By late February we’d reached:
“Heavy snow and rain pounded California and other parts of the West on Friday in the nation’s latest winter storm, while thousands of people in Michigan suffered in freezing temperatures through extended power outages wrought by one of the worst ice storms in decades.”
One of the worst in decades? Is it part of a pattern? Heck no. Even though the U.S. National Weather Service warned that in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountains “Simply put, this will be a historic event for the amount of snow over the higher peaks and lower elevation snow”. Historic, but random.
Also hot because of climate change. You see, by March 2 “Snow in Los Angeles and record heat in Atlanta” led to the obvious conclusion:
“Although official numbers won’t be confirmed for a few weeks, experts say this winter is all but sure to rank among the 10 warmest on record, yet another worrisome milestone in a trend caused by climate change.”
The same day the same news outlet allowed that:
“California continues to be hammered by severe weather, with parts of the state blanketed in snow Thursday as the southern Plains and other areas faced the threat of ‘long-lived, intense’ tornadoes, forecasters said.”
And again “climate” was banished. As it was when the Globe & Mail reported that further north, in British Columbia:
“The first day of spring is exactly one week away, but extreme winter conditions still persist on British Columbia’s southern and southeastern mountain passes as snowfall warnings are posted for most routes.”
It got so hot that on March 4:
“Rain and strong winds will likely affect a large swath of the Northeast, the National Weather Service said in a bulletin, adding that ‘heavy snow to continue across interior Northeast and northern New England.’ An additional 3 to 6 inches of snow were possible, it said, adding that between 8 and 12 inches were forecast for southern Maine and New Hampshire through Saturday. Heavy snow will also hit the West Coast as a new storm system moves in, bringing the possibility of rainfall that could cause flash flooding along the coastal areas of Northern California and southern Oregon, forecasters warned Saturday.”
With snow conditions life-threatening for some isolated people after “relentless winter storms”, NBC reported two days later that:
“In recent years winter was all but done bringing snow to Southern California mountains by early March. But this year, it's not known whether more is yet to come.”
It was. On March 14 more foul weather hammered the United States, from California to Connecticut with the usual dangers to human life far more severe than from heat waves. And finally we got the punchline. Reuters news agency said on March 14 that:
“Emergency officials in several California counties spent Friday patrolling levies and swollen rivers as an ‘atmospheric river’ storm drenched the already-sodden state with torrential rains, causing floods that washed out roads and prompted evacuations. The latest deluge from dense streams of Pacific moisture sweeping California's skies soaked some mountain areas still clogged with piles of snow dumped by a recent spate of paralyzing blizzards, while bringing even more snow to higher elevations…. It marks the 10th such weather system to hit California since Christmas, adding to an exceptionally wet, snowy winter in a state that in recent years has been plagued far more by drought and wildfires than by severe precipitation.”
And when you hear of “atmospheric rivers” you can start the drum roll because:
“The growing frequency and intensity of such storms amid bouts of prolonged drought are symptomatic of human-caused climate change, experts say. The swing from one extreme to another has increased the difficulty of managing California's precious water supplies while minimizing flood and wildfire risks.”
Experts say. As do politicians. On March 16 NBC reported that:
“California’s 11th atmospheric river left the storm-soaked state with a bang Wednesday, bringing flooded roadways, landslides and toppled trees to the southern part of the state as well as drought-busting rainfall that meant the end of water restrictions for nearly 7 million people…. ‘If anyone has any doubt about Mother Nature and her fury, if anyone has any doubt about what this is all about in terms of what’s happening to the climate and the changes that we are experiencing, come to California,’ the governor [Gavin Newsom] said.”
As Leonardo DiCaprio had predicted seven years earlier. Except the bit about rain.
May I suggest an all-purpose climate headline:
"Climate-related drought will result in 20% increase in number of floods, scientists say"
The only thing Hollywood celebrities know about climate change is that their agents told them to gush about it, so as to get on more directors A-lists by being mentioned in the media more often. Plus if they are good at memorizing lines and seeming sincere, they can get the odd speaking engagement fee.