The Coming Global Superstorm, 18 years later, Part 1

Y2K was a recent memory when “The Coming Global Superstorm” (CGS) was published in 2000.  George W. Bush had not yet won his first term as president, and I was then, as I am now, mostly a-political.  And I was agnostic concerning the science and politics of “Global Warming”, still the term of choice, before advocates backed away from it and began calling it “Climate Change”.

CGS made a huge impact on me, because of its many compelling predictions and the seeming correctness of the science.  CGS spawned a feature film.  People talked about the book.  I talked a lot about the book to anyone who would listen.  If the superstorm were to occur, I might survive its devastation, because I lived below the projected snow line, which was predicted to occur somewhere in north Texas.  North of that line, pretty much everyone in the United States would die.  And the devastation would not be limited to the United State and Canada.  I often imagined waking up one day to learn that virtually all of the non-tropical parts of the land masses of our planet was under a 10 foot deep layer of snow and ice, and that we were well on our way to another ice age.

Going on 20 years later, people no longer talk about the book.  Conservatives never took it seriously.  Even liberals argued that it was exaggerated in its predictions. However,  I still find the model presented in the book as compelling now as I did then, if not terribly likely to occur.

As I write this, the largest volcanic eruptions of a generation are spewing ash into the atmosphere above Hawaii.  Thousands of individuals are being evacuated from the path of the lava flows, and explosions are predicted.  The ash plume will have a significant cooling effect on the atmosphere, as there is no end in sight for the eruptions.  This is what climate does: temperatures go up and they go down, as volcanos erupt, as the intensity of the sun emissions and its magnetic field wax and wane, as super nova explode in our stellar neighborhood.

But back to CGS.  One could criticize Art Bell, the main author of the book, as being a quack.  But I do not, for I think he drew the correct conclusion given the assumptions which seemed so valid at the time.  The mechanism he described is basically as follows:

(page 131 and following) Green house gases warm the troposphere.  However, for every  one degree increase in the troposphere temperature, the stratosphere temperature decreases by five degrees celsius.  The center of a storm will climb from ground level all the way to the sub-stratosphere., thereby connecting these two temperature extremes.  Although Bell does not say this anywhere in his book (that I could find), it is a fact of physics that, given a heat source and a heat sink of different temperatures, a heat engine is created which can do work.  This is the true source of the energy of a storm.  And the larger the difference in temperatures between these two extremes, the more powerful the heat engine.  It is these heat engines which are the superstorms that Art Bell envisions.

I should point out that a more likely scenario, under the assumption of global warming, is that the arctic ice cap melts completely, releasing an enormous amount of fresh water into the north Atlantic, thereby reducing its salinity and causing the disruption of the Gulf Stream.  It is the Gulf Stream that moves warm water from the tropical regions of the Atlantic to the coasts of northern Europe.  Without the Gulf Stream, Europe will freeze under a blanket of ice and snow.  Because more sunlight is reflected into space by this ice and snow, the earth cools, and goes into an ice age.  This process would take a few years to fully bring forth the ice age, as opposed to the few days that might be required for a superstorm to accomplish the same thing.  Though I find Gulf Stream disruption model more plausible, this is not the model that Art Bell promotes in CGS.

In my next post, Part 2, I will discuss other aspects of CGS, and draw my own conclusions about the current state of the climate change debate.