Setting aside the controversy and politics of climate change for a moment, we can all agree it’s been a wacky year in weather that has impacted the day-to-day lives of Americans and people around the globe. Severe weather affects many aspects of our lives, from our food supply (think soaring citrus prices following a Florida freeze) to recreation (think snow pack, you skiers!) to backyard gardening.
Personally, I’ve seen my 5-year-old melting on the soccer field as the mercury climbed to a record high of 93 degrees on September 25th in Washington DC. The minimum temperature that day was 74 degrees, which set a heat record. I’ve also seen my mother, who lives in flood-prone Florida, face rising insurance rates as carriers refuse to renew coverage.
This past Tuesday (December 14th), Florida was colder (36 degrees Fahrenheit in Orlando) than Greenland (39 degrees Fahrenheit in Nuuk) and Iceland (43 degrees Fahrenheit in Reykjavik), due to disruption in global circulation patterns, which is causing the poles to warm while the rest of us freeze.
Some examples of severe weather in 2010, which journalists from the Associated Press nicknamed “the year the Earth struck back:”
- More people – a quarter of a million – were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined, according to the AP article.
- In Washington DC’s February Snowmaggedon, the metro area received well over 50 inches of snow in a week – a record.
- Two tornados hammered New York City on Sept. 16th, barreling across Brooklyn and Queens, claiming at least one life.
- Moscow’s summer heat wave – which scientists say would happen once every 100,000 years without climate change – combined with the smoke from massive wildfires to cause thousands of deaths in July and August.
- A flood that covered an area the size of Wisconsin became Pakistan’s worst flooding event in 80 years and claimed the lives of 1,600 people.
- Early estimates show that eighteen countries will have set records in 2010 for their hottest days ever.
Unfortunately, the 2011 forecast doesn’t look much rosier. Current trends overwhelmingly match patterns that scientists have predicted will become more common in a world thrown off balance by runaway carbon pollution from power stations, industrial processes, transportation fuels, and other societal sources.
And the upcoming decades won’t be much better, unless we drastically reduce our consumption of coal and oil. High levels of carbon in the atmosphere will result in increasingly intense rainstorms, snowstorms, heat waves, and other damaging events. The “normal” weather that we grew up with is already being replaced with out-of-the-ordinary events that are becoming more commonplace.
To put these changes in perspective, by 2050, most summer days on the East Coast of the U.S. will be hotter than the warmest day ever recorded. And with heat driving unhealthy air quality, it means that many people lucky enough to have air conditioning will have to sequester themselves inside, missing out on the many joys of spending lazy days by the water or under a shady tree.
Sarene Marshall is the Climate Change Program director at The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user Badruddeen (Storm at Baa Atoll, Maldives.)
Trackback from your site.