Scientists in Colorado are publishing alarming new research about the storms of the future.
Computer simulations show bigger, more frequent and more intense storms. These conclusions have now captured the attention of the United States military.
A study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), details how large, long-lasting storms called mesoscale convective systems -- which can be a cluster of thunderstorms over land or even a hurricane -- are likely to become more intense and more frequent by the end of the 21st century.
This research was published Nov. 20 in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Atmospheric scientist and lead author of the study, Dr. Andy Prein, defines a mesoscale convective system as a large storm (at least 60 miles in one direction), long lasting, more than four hours in duration and having a large cloud shield on top.
Many recent papers have shown how rain rates are likely to increase in storms as the global temperature keeps rising, but this study defines that hypothesis even further.
“Our study shows that it may even be worse than we thought it is,” Prein said.
The group took hundreds of storm examples over the last 13 years that have occurred in our current climate, and used a super computer to simulate how those storms would evolve in a warmer climate 80 years into the future.
Prein said the atmospheric conditions used in the study were based on if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the rate they are today. It's something he calls a “business as usual” scenario.
NCAR scientists say the climate will be approximately 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) warmer if human caused emissions continue unabated.
The study implies that the flood guidelines that we are using today are probably too conservative.
“And I think in the future, our current system will be totally overwhelmed," he said. "We see up to 80 percent increases in this volume."
The research also shows these storm systems happening at least four times more often.
“But you don’t have to wait until the end of the century, we are already seeing some of these consequences,” Prein said, referring to the rise in natural disasters over the last 10 years.
This research, along with the disaster statistics and some independent studies, has now captured the attention of some U.S. military advisors.
“Acknowledge. You don’t have to give it a political label. Science doesn’t care if you believe in it or not,” retired four-star Air Force general Ronald Keys said.
Keys is now with a group called CNA that advises the United States military about energy and climate threats to homeland security.
“If we are in fact going to start having more frequent and stronger storms, are we going to be caught up in this to the point that it starts to affect our military mission?” Keys told 9NEWS before delivering the keynote speech to the Farm Bureau in Colorado.
Keys is on the CNA advisory board, made up of retired three-star and four-star generals and admirals. He said they are a non-profit group meant to be a middle man between policy makers and the military.
CNA is no longer an acronym. It used to stand for the Center of Naval Analysis, but they dropped that acronym when they expanded their services.
Keys says there is now enough convincing research, along with the recent rise in natural disasters across the country, to seriously consider the climate as a threat to national security.
“That’s the danger that you have," Keys said. "If you have mother nature, and something is happening, and then you have one of your adversaries over here going okay, now they’re busy, and they’re having some problems. We can make their problems worse."
Keys said the U.S. was vulnerable after three hurricane strikes and a major wildfire in California, over the span of just two months. He said that troop deployments had to be delayed to combat zones, extending the stays of soldiers already in place.
“If I was really upset with the U.S. that would be a great time to do something,” Keys said. “If I were them, that would be the time, 'I’d go okay, kick them in the shins now.'”
Keys said that the government turns to the military to respond to natural disasters because it is a readymade force of manpower, that is trained and ready to respond quickly. Keys' advice to the military is to restructure and retrain to prepare for the impact of more intense storms in the future.
Keys has also voiced his concerns to the military about threats to America’s power grid. He says that having huge regional grids makes us vulnerable to natural disasters, as well as physical and cyber attacks from terrorists.
“The fact that our grid is built in three parts, it’s east, west, and Texas," he said. "They are connected at about nine critical points, and if you knew where they were at a classified level, and you could attack those, you could take down at least one, if not more of the regional grids. That’s a lot of people in the dark."
His solution is to expand renewable energy. He says that way, more of our power would be generated locally, instead of coming from big generation facilities down range. It also has the advantage of being environmentally-friendly.
That is an answer that you will get no complaints about from Dr. Andy Prein and his group from NCAR. They are trying to convince people that their actions today will have a profound impact on the future.
“We keep on emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and those gases stay in the atmosphere for a very long time,” Prein said. “For example, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a hundred years, so everything that we emit now, will still be there at the end of the century.”
While Keys said that he doesn’t have to believe in climate change because he just believes in numbers, statistics, and trends, that data has lead him to the conclusion that a changing climate is a real threat to national security.
It's something Keys says is now being taken into consideration by America's top military leaders.
“Slowly things are changing," Keys said. "I mean there is a lot of dust in the air, and there are a lot of people shouting at people in our government, and certainly in politics, but below that level, there are people trying to figure out, how do I live my life, how do I make myself safe, secure, and in an affordable manor."