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Do recent storms indicate a climate shift?

The frequency of major storms in the Northwest and New England is up, say experts.

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Patrick Mazza, research director of the Seattle-based nonprofit Climate Solutions, likens the connection between the weather (short term) and climate (long term) in the US Northwest to steam rising from a pot of boiling water:

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"Global warming is heating the oceans, and the steamy, moist air rising from ocean surfaces is rocket fuel for storms. A warmer atmosphere also holds moisture better. The line of clouds pointing from the tropical Pacific to the Northwest that show up on the weather report satellite photos are the physical illustration of these phenomena."

Mr. Mazza adds an important scientific caveat: No one weather event conclusively demonstrates global warming. But, he says:

"The point here is that global warming loads the dice for more frequent and intense storms, such as the Northwest has seen in recent days. When rainfall in the rain city of Seattle hits the second-greatest one-day level in recorded history, and the record was set only in 2003, it provides a very suggestive indicator."

In a story in Portland's Oregonian newspaper, Mike Kreidler, Washington State insurance commissioner, says that if climate change amplifies weather damage, the region could find itself in a situation similar to that of the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast after Katrina, where property insurance became expensive, if not impossible, to obtain.

"The Northwest must strengthen building codes to make sure homes and other structures avoid danger from wind, flood, and wildfires, [Mr.] Kreidler said. 'We also need to take a careful look at where we develop and redevelop our communities. We need to first ask ourselves, 'Is the risk so great from some perils we should not build here?' "

It's not just the Northwest that's seeing big storms more frequently, according to a survey of weather reporting station data going back to 1948.

The steepest increases – in excess of 50 percent – were recorded in New York State and New England, says a story in The Baltimore Sun. As a region, New England experienced an increase of 61 percent of such storms, followed by the mid-Atlantic region at 42 percent.

This recent analysis was produced by Environment America, a federation of state-based advocacy groups. In a press release, it quotes William Moomaw, a professor of international environmental policy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.:

" 'This report demonstrates that we are already seeing the effects of global warming even with a relatively small increase in temperatures. The projected increases are much greater, and the impacts are already much more than was predicted.' "