Claim: Climate Change is Causing Floods and “Flash Droughts”

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From Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

According to University of Melbourne academics, climate change is disrupting rainfall and affecting farmers. But strangely this alleged disruption isn’t showing up in global food production statistics.

Faster disaster: climate change fuels ‘flash droughts’, intense downpours and storms

Published: September 12, 2023 4.59pm AEST

Andrew King Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, The University of Melbourne
Andrew Dowdy Principal research scientist, The University of Melbourne

The run of extreme weather events around the world seems to be never-ending. After the northern summer of extreme heat and disastrous fires, we’ve seen more exceptional autumn weather over Europe with record-breaking heat in the UK. 

Meanwhile, record-breaking rain and intense flash floods struck Greece before the same storm devastated Libya, with thousands dead. 

Almost 20% of Africa is estimated to be in drought, and drought conditions are returning to parts of Australia. To top it off, we’ve seen several hurricanes intensify unusually quickly in the Atlantic.

We know climate change underpins some of the more extreme weather we’re seeing. But is it also pushing these extreme events to happen faster? 

The answer? Generally, yes. Here’s how.

Flash droughts

We usually think of droughts as slowly evolving extreme events which take months to form. 

But that’s no longer a given. We’ve seen some recent droughts develop unexpectedly quickly, giving rise to the phrase “flash drought”. 

Flash droughts tend to be short, so they don’t tend to cause the major water shortages or dry river beds we’ve seen during long droughts in parts of Australia and South Africa, for example. But they can cause real problems for farmers. Farmers in parts of eastern Australia are already grappling with the sudden return of drought after three years of rainy La Niña conditions. 

As we continue to warm the planet, we’ll see more flash droughts and more intense ones. That’s because dry conditions will more often coincide with higher temperatures as relative humidity falls across many land regions.

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The obviously solution to any drought is to pipe in more water.

South Africa is on the brink of being a failed state, and Libya is a militia trouble spot, so it is no mystery why those countries are having trouble managing national water supplies.

But there is no such excuse for Australia’s lack of investment in water.

For example, in 2018 the ABC reported the CSIRO has surveyed 3 major river systems which could provide an enormous increase in available agricultural water. But so far these detailed plans have seen very little action – Aussie state and federal governments are too busy frittering all their spare cash on green fantasies, renewable grid upgrades and pumped hydro schemes.

If the scientists are right, and “flash droughts” become a problem, I would suggest better water infrastructure is a higher priority than green energy fantasies. But I’m not losing any sleep over their prediction, given the complete lack of evidence that adverse growing conditions are impacting yields in the agriculture sector.

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