Severe weather signals amid the climate noise | Conservation Law Foundation

Severe weather signals amid the climate noise

Christophe Courchesne

Flooding in Minot, ND (photo credit: USACE)

Earlier this month, my CLF Vermont colleague Anthony told the tale of his brush with a changed climate in dealing with flood waters in the Montpelier area.  Severe weather around the country continues to make news, with record floods in North Dakota and an “exceptional” drought and wildfires in the Southwest.  Although it got lost in the controversy over Al Gore’s critique of the Obama administration’s climate efforts, Gore’s essay last week in Rolling Stone also highlighted the mounting evidence that that climate change is causing severe weather and resulting disasters – record droughts, fires, floods, and mudslides – to increase in intensity and frequency all around the world. 

This week, a three-part series of articles in Scientific American is tackling the same issue.  (Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 is coming tomorrow.)  Some key points: 

  • Global severe weather data – not just sensational anecdotes – are demonstrating that climate change is the culprit.  As series author John Carey puts it, “The signal of climate change is finally emerging from the ‘noise’—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.”
  • Extreme weather is now regularly happening in places it has been exceedingly rare, and weather events are becoming much more intense, even where severe weather is a way of life.
  • What we are seeing is, essentially, elementary physics and meteorology at work.  More heat means more evaporation, and more water in the atmosphere changes longstanding weather patterns, often in dramatic ways.  As these patterns change, scientists are finding tipping points and feedback loops that are making severe weather events even more diastrous.
  • Climate scientists are increasingly able to finger climate change as the reason for the severity of individual weather events, including Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 European heat wave.

I urge you to read the whole series, and to share it with others.  Whether the next weather disaster is front-page news or actually hits home, as it did for Anthony, severe weather is yet one more reason why aggressive policies to transform our energy and transportation systems to curb emissions of greenhouse gases are so overdue.  As Betsy Kolbert eloquently argued in the New Yorker earlier this month, it is simply not true that these weather tragedies are “beyond our control.”

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