Category Archives: Extreme Weather

"Risky Business" stands out in growing sea of climate reports

Receding beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Source: FEMA/Tim Burkitt

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

This blog post was co-authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux.

Put Republican Hank Paulson, Independent Mike Bloomberg, and Democrat Tom Steyer together, and out comes one of the more unusual – and unusually impactful – climate reports.

This year alone has seen a couple of IPCC tomes, an entry by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

The latest, Risky Business, stands apart for a number of reasons, and it’s timely with the nation debating proposed, first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 500 power plants.

Tri-partisan coalition tackles climate change

The report is significant, first, because we have a tri-partisan group spanning George W. Bush’s treasury secretary Paulson, former mayor of New York Bloomberg, and environmentalist investor Steyer – all joining forces to get a message through.

That list of names alone should make one sit up and listen.

Last time a similar coalition came together was in the dog days of 2009, when Senators Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry were drafting the to-date last viable (and ultimately unsuccessful) Senate climate bill.

Global warming is hitting home

Next, Risky Business is important because it shows how climate change is hitting home. No real surprise there for anyone paying attention to globally rising temperatures, but the full report goes into much more granular details than most, focusing on impacts at county, state and regional levels.

Risky Business employs the latest econometric techniques to come up with numbers that should surprise even the most hardened climate hawks and wake up those still untouched by reality. Crop yield losses, for example, could go as high as 50 to 70 percent (!) in some Midwestern and Southern states, absent agricultural adaptation.

The report is also replete with references to heat strokes, sky-rocketing electricity demand for air conditioning, and major losses from damages to properties up and down our ever-receding coast lines.

Not precisely uplifting material, yet this report does a better job than most in laying it all out.

Financial markets can teach us a climate lesson

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Risky Business gets the framing exactly right: Climate change is replete with deep-seated risks and uncertainties.

In spite of all that we know about the science, there’s lots more that we don’t. And none of that means that climate change isn’t bad. As the report makes clear, what we don’t know could potentially be much worse.

Climate change, in the end, is all about risk management.

Few are better equipped to face up to that reality than the trio spearheading the effort; Paulson, Bloomberg and Steyer have made their careers (and fortunes) in the financial sector. In fact, as United States Treasury secretary between 2006 and 2009, Paulson was perhaps closest of anyone to the latest, global example of what happens when risks get ignored.

We cannot – must not – ignore risk when it comes to something as global as global warming. After all, for climate, much like for financial markets, it’s not over ‘til the fat tail zings.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed

Study: Climate change may push hurricanes farther north, south

A satellite image of Irene, a Category 1 hurricane, as it made landfall in North Carolina in August of 2011. Source: NASA/NOAA GOES project

The hurricane season of 2014 just kicked off, and with two devastating storms wreaking havoc along the northeastern United States coast over the last few years, it’s no wonder everyone’s on edge.

We’re concerned about hurricanes becoming more frequent and intense, and about the worsening storm surge caused by a rise in sea levels. But flying under the radar is a fourth link between hurricanes and climate change: how climate change affects the location of hurricanes.

new study led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University found that hurricanes have been shifting pole-ward at a rate of 30 to 40 miles per decade over the last 30 years.

It means they are moving closer to major population centers such as Washington, New York and Boston.

The likely cause? Human-caused climate change.

The migration of hurricanes has “potentially profound consequences for life and property,” the authors of the study warn in an article published recently in the journal Nature.

Increasing hazard exposure and mortality risk from tropical cyclones may be compounded in coastal cities outside the tropics, while being offset at lower latitudes.”  

Linking climate change to hurricane location

This finding is an important advancement in scientists’ understanding of how climate change has already contributed to extreme weather events. Research shows that the rise in global temperatures already causes more warm days, heat waves, and heavy rainfall.

Detecting trends in hurricane activity has been difficult, however, due to inconsistent and often unreliable historical data.

To get around this data challenge, the scientists at NOAA, MIT and Princeton developed a new technique that relies on a dependable subset of the data, and which teases out natural events such as El Niño to detect a distinct relationship between hurricane activity and climate change.

Their conclusion: Hurricanes are drifting toward the poles most likely due to an expansion of the Hadley Cell, a permanent atmospheric circulation feature that carries heat from the tropics to the Earth’s temperate zones.

Scientific understanding is that the Hadley Cell expansion is a result of the increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere from human activities. So as we continue to drive cars, generate electricity at fossil-fueled power plants, cut down trees, and farm – we are indirectly pushing hurricanes farther north and south.

The new study is groundbreaking not only because it uses a novel technique, but also because it links a hurricane trend to climate change.

What we know so far

So where are we today with hurricanes and climate change?

Scientists studying hurricanes:

  • Have found no observed trend in frequency
  • Have not been able to detect trends in intensity  and duration
  • Are confident that human-caused sea level rise is contributing to storm surge
  • Expect the frequency of intense storms to increase in the future
  • Have now detected a robust trend in location shifts that is likely due to human activity

This new research presented in Nature suggests that hurricanes are migrating toward the poles and may devastate densely populated coastal regions that had previously, for the most part, been spared such storms.

It’s yet another reason why we must act now to curb carbon pollution and limit climate change.

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 2 Responses, comments now closed

New report: How climate change is impacting where you live

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is essentially the U.S. equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Using the best available science, over 300 experts synthesized current understanding of observed and future climate changes and impacts, particularly in the U.S. The third ever NCA was released today, and concludes beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that Americans are being affected by climate change.

Among the findings:

  • U.S. average temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9ºF since record-keeping began in 1895, and most of this warming has occurred since 1970
  • Heavy precipitation has increased in many parts of the country
  • Extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and North Atlantic hurricanes are more frequent and/or intense
  • Summer sea ice in the Arctic has halved since record-keeping began in 1979
  • Sea level rise has increased coastal erosion and storm surge damage

These changing conditions produce a variety of tangible stresses on society by affecting human health, water resources, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and natural ecosystems. The particular impacts vary by region, but no corner of the country is immune to the change.

So what’s happening where you live?

Source: National Climate Assessment

Unless we take immediate action to curb our emissions of heat-trapping gases, the foreseeable future will be plagued by further warming and worsening impacts. The good news is that because we know what the cause is, we also know what is needed in order to stabilize our planet. We must come together now—locally, nationally, and internationally—and work towards a better future.

This post first appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Oceans, Science| Comments closed

New Reports about Weather Disasters, Cost, and Climate Change

Congress just passed a bill to provide more than $50 billion to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

If you think that seems like a lot of money, consider this Hurricane Sandy was just one of the eleven weather disasters in the U.S. last year that caused more than $1 billion each in losses.

For a long time now, the world’s top climate researchers have told us about the strong evidence of links between our weird weather and climate change.

(Of course, here at EDF, we’ve been talking about the links between weird weather and climate change too — as regular readers of Climate 411 know.)

Greenhouse gas pollution traps heat in our atmosphere, which interferes with historic weather patterns – and is resulting in more severe and damaging weather events.

Our particularly awful weather last year has put climate change back in the news:

  • In his Inaugural Address, President Obama talked about the threat of climate change — saying, “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
  • Two Members of Congress just formed a new bicameral task force on climate change.
  • The World Economic Forum just released its Global Risks Report 2013, which says: “Following a year scarred by extreme weather, from Hurricane Sandy to flooding in China, respondents rated rising greenhouse gas emissions as the third most likely global risk overall.”

How bad was it really? Four other reports — all released in the last few weeks – found that evidence showing the impacts of climate change is piling up.

Two new reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that both America and the world are warming – by leaps and bounds.

According to NOAA, “By a wide margin, 2012 was the United States’ warmest year on record.”

NOAA’s State of the Climate National Assessment found that the average temperature for the continental U.S. in 2012 was one full degree Fahrenheit higher than the previous warmest year on record – and 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average.

And NOAA’s State of the Climate Global Analysis found that 2012 was the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average. That means the last time the global temperature wasn’t above average was in 1976 – when America was celebrating its bicentennial and Jimmy Carter was elected President. Anyone under the age of 35 has never seen a year when the Earth wasn’t hotter than the 20th century average.

NASA also measures global temperatures, and their report also found 2012 to be one of the top 10 hottest years ever for planet Earth.

Why? According to NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt,

The planet is warming. The reason it's warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Let’s go back to NOAA’s data for more frightening statistics from 2012:

  • Every state in the contiguous United States had an above-20th century-average annual temperature. (You can check NOAA’s web page to see which cities broke any records or had their hottest year).
  • July 2012 was the hottest month ever observed in the continental U.S. since we began keeping records in 1880.
  • Nineteen states had their warmest year on record, and another 26 states had one of their ten warmest years since 1880.
  • Temperatures were above the 20th-century average in every month from June 2011 to September 2012 – an unbroken 16-month stretch that we’ve never seen before since we started keeping records.
  • The winter snow cover for the contiguous United States was the third smallest on record, and snowpack totals across the Central and Southern Rockies as of April 2012 were less than half of the 1971-2000 average.

In 2012, America also had the second largest extent of extreme weather events ever recorded in a single year. (A weather event has a variable at the high or low end of the observed historical range.)

And we saw vastly different types of weather extremes at the same time – which is consistent with weird weather linked to climate change. While most of the continental U.S. withered in drought, some areas got drenched — Florida had its wettest summer on record.

Along with Hurricane Sandy, 2012 weather lowlights include:

  • Hurricane Isaac, which caused flooding along the Gulf Coast and killed 9 people.
  • The Derecho storm that caused severe damage in eleven states from Indiana to Maryland.
  • Flooding in and around Duluth, Minnesota, where rivers reached all-time high flood levels.
  • A massive drought that covered more than 60 percent of the country and led to widespread crop failures. Crop prices are now rising because of last year’s drought. Corn, wheat and soybean prices are all up – which means your grocery bills will soon be up too.
  • Wildfires burned more than nine million acres around the West, about 1.5 times the ten year average from 2001 to 2010. A fire near Colorado Springs destroyed almost 350 homes, and New Mexico recorded its largest wildfire ever. Wildfire risk increases when drought is combined with high heat and low levels of humidity.

Now for the really bad news – it’s likely to get worse.

This month, the U.S. government released a first draft of another new report, the National Climate Assessment. More than 300 scientists contributed to writing the report, which warns that the U.S. could warm up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, unless we take steps now to reduce climate change.

According to the assessment:

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans … The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: The planet is warming.

Unfortunately, the new reports are just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg. There’s a lot more evidence of climate change and its effects on our weather — evidence that shows that we need to take serious action to reduce carbon pollution and stop climate change.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Science| Comments closed

EDF's Business-Friendly Suggestions for Fighting Climate Change

We’ve been hearing the same question a lot lately – what should President Obama do in his second term to fight climate change?  

In today’s online Harvard Business Review, EDF’s Eric Pooley has some thoughts on that subject. He's laid out a five-point plan to help us address climate change.

Those points range:

[F]rom no-brainer ideas almost everyone can agree on to ambitious items that would require Congressional action

And they all have one thing in common – they are business friendly.

As Eric puts it: 

It is worth remembering that strong business support helped secure passage of the House climate bill in 2009, and though that effort failed in the Senate, no serious legislation can move without the backing of men and women in the engine room of the American economy. To be politically viable, climate solutions must be economically sustainable.

Here’s the (very) short version of Eric’s plan:

  • Feed the conversation
  • Reduce climate accelerants
  • Start a clean energy race
  • Use the Clean Air Act
  • Put a price on carbon

If you’d like to read the whole plan, you can find it here: A Business-Friendly Climate Agenda for Obama's Second Term

Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments closed

Antarctica's Glacial Melt

There should no longer be any doubt. Climate change is here, and it is happening. 26,000 broken heat records this summer speak for themselves.

Extreme weather events hit home. Another consequence of climate change, by contrast – rising sea levels – often seems far away and far off.

“Far away” is easily dismissed. U.S. coasts are as much in danger as sea shores anywhere else on the planet.

"Far off” often seems tougher to address. After all, seas have only risen by inches so far. Projections say we could see three or more feet by the end of the century.

Even right now, though, we’re seeing the evidence of sea level rise. Antarctic ice sheets have been melting to the tune of 24 cubic miles of melt water per year, every year, since 2002.

That is a huge number, but a fairly abstract number. So The Globalist designed a quiz to make the giant quantity feel a bit more real. EDF was honored to help with the research for the quiz.

See if you can answer the question:

If you were to take the melt-off from Antarctica's ice sheets over the past decade (2002 to 2012) and pour it into a California-sized Jell-O mold, how high would the water rise?

The right answer might surprise you. Hint: Think Paul Sturgess, the world's tallest professional basketball player.

And check out The Globalist quiz for more details.

Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, News, Oceans, Science| 1 Response, comments now closed

Hot Topic: Climate Change and Our Extreme Weather

Americans have been griping all summer about the weather. It feels hotter than usual this year.

Turns out, that’s because – it is.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just confirmed that America is enduring the hottest weather in our recorded history.

In fact, the past 12 months have been the warmest 12 months in the continental U.S. since record-keeping began back in 1895.

It’s not a coincidence either. NOAA says the odds of our record heat being a random event — rather than part of a global warming trend — are about 1 in 1.6 million.

How hot is it, really? Consider these facts from NOAA:

  • From June 1st through July 10th of this year, the U.S. broke 147 all-time high-temperature records.
  • In June of 2012, communities across the U.S. broke 2,284 daily maximum temperature records. In the week of July 1st through July 9th of this year, they broke another 2,071.
  • The average temperature in the contiguous United States was 71.2 degrees Fahrenheit this June – two full degrees above the 20th-century average.

Those scary statistics are just for the past six weeks. But our miserable June followed the blistering heat from last year.

Read all about it in NOAA’s new report, State of the Climate in 2011.)

Take a look at this partial list of cities that broke records from June of 2011 through May of 2012:

  • Detroit – 101 degrees (daily record)
  • Syracuse – 101 degrees (daily record)
  • Mitchell, SD – 102 degrees (daily record)
  • Minneapolis – 103 degrees (daily record)
  • Bridgeport, CT – 103 degrees (all-time record)
  • Denver – 105 degrees (all-time record)      
  • Newark– 108 degrees (all-time record)
  • Houston – 109 degrees (all-time record)
  • Miles City, MT – 111 degrees (all-time record)
  • Wichita – 111 degrees (daily record)
  • Little Rock – 114 degrees (all-time record)
  • Childress, TX – 117 degrees (all-time record)

We’ve included some of those temperatures in our newest EDF public service announcement, which is running on the jumbo screen in Times Square. Just in case you’re not in Times Square right now — see the ad here.

The blazing temperatures have led to other problems as well:

  • The U.S. Drought Monitor says more than 56 percent of the contiguous United States is now under drought conditions — the highest level since record-keeping began in 2000.
  • Wildfires destroyed 1.3 million acres in Colorado and across the U.S. last month.
  • Wyoming recorded its driest June ever this year; Colorado and Utah recorded their second-driest Junes.

At the same time:

  • Florida recorded its wettest June ever — thanks in part to Tropical Storm Debby, which dumped more than two feet of rain on some towns, and spawned flash floods and almost two dozen tornadoes.
  • Duluth, Minnesota also had record floods last month.
  • Large parts of the East Coast got hit by a killer Derecho storm that killed more than two dozen people; more than three million lost electricity, some for more than a week.
  • Washington, D.C. broke its record for worst heat wave ever, according to the Washington Post.

Unfortunately, these bad weather trends are not unexpected. For a long time now, the world’s top climate researchers have told us about the strong evidence of links between dangerous weather and climate change.

Here at EDF, we’ve been talking – and blogging – about the issue for a long time. It was barely more than six months ago that we posted about the IPCC report on climate change and extreme weather. Sadly, looking back at the last round of weather disasters gives our current sweltering summer a sense of déjà vu.

Greenhouse gas pollution traps heat in our atmosphere, which interferes with normal weather patterns. That means we can expect more – and probably worse – weird weather in the future.

Climate change doesn’t just mean higher heat. It means more severe and damaging weather events across the country – including more frequent and heavier rains in some areas, increased drought in others, a potential increase in the intensity of hurricanes, and more coastal erosion because of rising sea levels.

Changing weather patterns changes will affect our agriculture, water supplies, health and economy. They’ll affect every American community and, ultimately, every American.

That’s why EDF is dedicated to reducing carbon pollution.

After all the reports, and all the statistics, and all the bad weather –there's no excuse for not fighting climate change.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science| Comments closed

New Report on Climate Change Says Wilder Weather is Headed Our Way

A new report by some the world’s top researchers confirms that climate change will make the extreme weather we’ve seen recently even worse in the future.

The report was released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It synthesizes two years work from 100 experts who analyze data from all over the world.

Their conclusion: climate change is bringing us more extreme weather, and it’s likely to get worse and have greater negative impacts over the next century.

Here’s what EDF’s Chief Scientist, Steve Hamburg, had to say today:

We've all been experiencing these dangerous storms and heat waves, and this report provides strong evidence of the links between impacts of dangerous weather and climate change. Now we need to start using this data to find ways to protect ourselves and our communities.

Here are some of the highlights of the report – or lowlights as the case may be:

Here in the United States, we’re likely to see

  • Higher temperatures and more hot days through the next century (Record-breaking heat that would have been a once-in-20-year high are likely to become a one-in-two-year event)
  • More frequent and heavier rains, especially in winter
  • Stronger hurricanes that will do more damage
  • Increased droughts, especially in the center of the country
  • Higher sea levels, which means more coastal erosion and other damage
  • All these changes will affect our agriculture, water supplies, health – even tourism. And all that, in turn, will affect our economy.

That's more bad news on top of an extremely unpleasant year of bad weather. America suffered through a number of extreme weather events, including these compiled by Climate Central:

  • The Groundhog Day Blizzard blanketed 22 states and crippled travel. The deadly blizzard was one of Chicago’s top five snowstorms on record.
  • Some of the worst flooding in history hit us in the spring, from the Upper Midwest all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. More than three times the normal spring rainfall caused the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers to overflow. Flooding in Minot, North Dakota damaged 4,000 homes and forced 11,000 to evacuate. More than a million acres of farmland flooded in Missouri and Arkansas.
  • Hurricane Irene became the first hurricane to make landfall in New Jersey in 100 years, and inundated people from Virginia all the way north to Vermont. Tropical Storm Lee following right behind Irene. Their combined rainfalls led to damaging floods in the East.
  • Record-setting rainfalls were recorded across the country. August 2011 was the all-time rainiest month in New York City, Newark and Philadelphia; 2011 will be the rainiest year ever in Cleveland, Scranton, Binghamton and Harrisburg. 14 places in Wyoming and Montana set precipitation records in May, and seven places set new all-time records for the single rainiest day ever.
  • Deadly tornado outbreaks caused damage across the Southeast. 748 twisters touched down across the South in April, the most ever recorded in a single month. The EF-5 tornado that destroyed Joplin, Missouri was America’s deadliest single tornado since modern record-keeping started in 1950.
  • Extreme heat across the region had people sweltering. Texas had the hottest summer for any state in U.S. history, going back to when modern records were first kept in 1895. New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado had their hottest summers on record — as did Tallahassee, Florida and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Wichita Falls, Texas had 100 days when the temperature was more than 100 degrees; Austin had 67 days over 100 degrees. Washington D.C. hit an all-time record high of 105 degrees on July 22.
  • Severe droughts caused massive damage in the Southwest. Texas had the worst one-year drought on record.
  • Wildfires — which are linked to droughts –burned across the West. 3.5 million acres burned in Texas — the state’s worst wildfire season ever. 156,000 acres burned in New Mexico and 538,000 in Arizona.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science| 4 Responses, comments now closed

Clearing Up Confusion: The Recent Cold Snap and Global Warming

Our bitter cold winter has become one of the hottest topics of conversation in America.

Specifically, people are talking about how a severe cold snap can occur at the same time as global warming. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the debate on the Washington Post website.  In this post, I’ll try to clear up two of the issues that emerged from that debate:

  1. What does a particular cold spell say about global warming, and
  2. If the recent cold spell doesn’t disprove global warming, does that also mean that other kinds of extreme weather, like heat waves, aren't caused by global warming?

Climate versus weather

All of the Post’s panelists were careful enough to explain the difference between weather and climate: Climate refers to the average weather over a long period. For the most part, they did not fall for the common mistake of interpreting a cold spell as evidence against global warming.

Here's what's been happening with the weather recently: There have indeed been below-average temperatures recently in much of the eastern U.S. and in parts of Europe, Russia, northern China, and northern India. But at the same time, there were above-average temperatures in the western U.S., eastern Canada and Greenland, some other parts of the Arctic, North Africa and Central Asia, as this map shows.

NOAA map of worldwide temperatures

This distinct pattern of temperatures was caused by an unusually persistent version of an atmospheric flow pattern known as a “Greenland block.”  This Greenland block diverted frigid Arctic air far to the south in eastern North America and Europe. (More about it on the Weather Channel: "Why So Cold? Blame the Greenland Block.")

It’s important to look at weather events like cold snaps in context—we can have a relatively brief spell of cold weather in certain regions even while the global climate is warming.  All the evidence shows that the world overall has been warming over the past several decades. (See a chart in a post on this same topic by Lisa Moore in 2008.)

So how do we know if the climate is warming? We look at a wide range of long-term trends. Along with rising air and ocean temperatures, the other signs of a warming climate include rising sea level, retreat of glaciers in most regions, rapid shrinkage of summer sea ice in the Arctic, and shifts in species distributions and seasonal behavior.

Global warming does cause more extreme weather

Although the Post’s panelists were accurate on the first issue, there could have been more discussion on the fact that global warming does have an effect on some kinds of extreme weather. One of the panelists even claimed that extreme events like heat waves cannot be used as evidence of global warming. That is wrong, so let's look at how the frequency and intensity of certain extreme weather events are expected to increase under global warming.

Records indicate that there has already been an increase in intensity and frequency of heat waves and heavy rainfall in many parts of the world over the past several decades.  (See “Frequently Asked Question” number 3.3 excerpted from the 2007 IPCC report [PDF].)  Why? Global warming drives a rise in average temperature and atmospheric moisture, promoting more heat waves and torrential downpours. On top of that, changes in atmospheric circulation patterns caused by global warming are also thought to contribute to stronger heat waves.

There will still be variations from year to year, but on average, these extreme events will increase over time as the Earth warms.  On the other hand, extremely cold temperatures are becoming less common — but can still occur — as heat builds up in the climate system.

Of course, individual weather events should not be blamed on global warming, just as an individual cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming. EDF has been careful not to attribute individual events to global warming.  Instead, we point to examples of what we expect to see more and more of in the future if we don’t fight global warming.

And with the trends in extreme weather we’re already seeing, that future ain’t lookin’ pretty.

Also posted in Science| 15 Responses, comments now closed

New Climate Report: Life in a Very Different United States

Days Over 100 Degrees (NOAA)NOAA just released a terrific scientific report that explains, in plain English, the current and projected effects of climate change on the U.S. The nonpartisan report, prepared by the 13-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program, tells a grim but important story, clearly and with lots of powerful maps and charts. I encourage you to check it out to see how climate change will affect your area of the country.

Here are some of the "business-as-usual" projections that my colleagues and I find most striking and disturbing:

You think August is hot now?

By the end of this century, we could be in for much more severe summers all across the country.

  • If you live in New Hampshire, summer could feel like it does today in North Carolina (p.107).
  • If you live in Michigan, brace yourself for summers that feel like today's summers in Oklahoma (p 117).
  • And if you live in Texas, you now experience 10 to 20 days a year over 100 °F. By the last two decades of this century, look for 100 such days – that's more than three months (p. 90).
  • In 1995, Chicago suffered a heat wave that killed more than 700 people. Chicagoans could experience that kind of relentless heat up to three times a year (p. 117).
  • The Southwest, including cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix, will face worse and more frequent droughts, as spring rains decline by as much as half, snowpacks shrink and melt earlier, and water evaporates more rapidly (p. 129-130).

People who live on the coasts could be a lot closer to the shore

Sea level is projected to rise up to 3 to 4 feet. Here's what that means for various parts of the country:

  • Portions of New York City and Boston could be regularly flooded by storms and even high tides (p. 150).
  • On the Gulf Coast, approximately 2,400 miles of roads and 250 miles of freight rails are likely to be permanently flooded (p. 62). This area is home to seven of the nation's ten largest ports and much of our oil and gas industry.
  • Some coastal freshwater sources will be contaminated with saltwater, meaning we can no longer use them for drinking water without expensive desalinization (p. 47)

Your grandchildren will miss out on local icons and specialties

The foods and activities that define different parts of the country are changing.

  • Some western ski resorts could face a 90 percent decrease in snowpack, making the country's most iconic ski locations just shades of what they are today (p. 133).
  • Thanksgiving might no longer include cranberries produced in the Northeast's cranberry bogs (p. 73).
  • In the Northwest, salmon will be driven out of about one-third of their habitat. We could start to see the changes in the next ten years (p. 137).

This very thorough scientific report paints a bleak picture of what life will be like in this country if we let pollution continue at today's rate. The report's good news is that if we act now, we can avoid the most severe consequences. But the more sobering news is that even if we cut emissions aggressively, not everything in this report can be avoided. This is a first step toward understanding how to prepare for the coming changes.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would take us off the "business-as-usual" path, will come in front of the U.S. House for a vote in a matter of days. This report gives our leaders yet another reason to do the right thing for our country's future.

Also posted in Science| 4 Responses, comments now closed
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