The weather disasters of 2021 made the reality of climate change clear


From sweltering heat in North America to record-breaking flooding in Europe and Asia, this year’s weather has shown us what it’s like to live in a world that has warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) over the past century.

“Dangerous climate change is already here. It’s a harsh reality that we have to recognize, ”says Michael Wehner, extreme weather researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Extreme weather conditions are already taking homes, businesses and lives. Recent floods in Canada maybe the most expensive in the history of the country, which could cost approximately $ 7.5 billion. The 18 weather disasters that hit the United States in 2021 together cost more than $ 100 billion, according to the most recent estimates.

In August, Wehner and other scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying they are now more convinced than ever that climate change is influencing the world’s worst weather events, including these five there.

Pacific Northwest heatwave

The Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada, an area home to some 13 million people and known for its mild, rainy weather, have experienced deadly heat this summer. Large cities like Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, where many residents lack of air conditioning, has seen historically high temperatures that have exceeded 100 ° F (38 ° C).

Intense heat results from a weather phenomenon called a thermal dome, in which an area of ​​high pressure acts like a lid on a pot and retains heat above a specific region.

Research into the heatwave revealed that its intensity was “virtually impossible”Without the greenhouse gases which warm the planet and which have been emitted into the atmosphere over the past 120 years. Hundreds of people have died in the area due to the heat. A study published this summer concluded that more than a third of all heat-related deaths worldwide could be attributed to climate change. And it is those who already suffer the most – low income, poor health or old age – who are most affected by the heat.

Plants and animals also find it difficult to cope with the extreme heat. In the Pacific Northwest, millions of marine animals have died, like many on land. Farmers saw roasted berries on their vines.

Mega drought in the West

In August, the United States declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, a first for the waterway. Lake Mead, one of the river’s most important reservoirs, has fallen to historically low levels. While the statement triggered water cuts for farmers in Arizona and parts of Nevada, with some 40 million people at least partially dependent on the river for water, future droughts could lead to reductions. more widespread water.

A “mega-drought” has hit the West since 2000. While the region would likely have experienced a drought regardless of human influence, scientists say climate change is making the situation worse. in more than 1000 years.

Drought can create dangerous feedback loops. As the air warms, it sucks more moisture from rivers, lakes, plants, and even the soil, which in turn can make the soil even hotter and drier.

And while the drought in the western United States was historic, climate change is likely to make drought worse around the world, with historically arid regions in Africa and the Middle East hit the hardest.

Western forest fires

This year, the Dixie fire in California was the second largest in the history of the state. It burned half a million acres and some 400 homes, contributing to a series of busy fire seasons that have hit the West. North America was not alone. Large forest fires have broken out in Turkey, Greece – and perhaps most surprisingly –Siberian Russia.

When extreme heat and drought coincide, removing moisture from the soil and creating fields of dry vegetation, all it takes is a small spark to start a deadly fire. As climate change worsens the heat and drought, it creates the conditions for larger and more frequent fires. In parts of the western fire season now lasts all year.

Not only did the year’s wildfires immediately threaten homes and businesses, but they also produced unhealthy air pollution and threatened endangered species., including the famous California Redwoods.

Extreme floods … everywhere

Canada, United States, Germany, China — Extreme precipitation and the flooding it triggered have ravaged the globe this year. In each of these locations, the amount of precipitation was historic.

In British Columbia, 20 cities set precipitation records; Nashville saw its fourth wettest day already; Following the rain fell on Central park in just one hour than ever before during this period; German cities were inundated with more rain in two days than in a normal month; on a rainy day in Zhengzhou, China, exceeded the value of one year mean annual precipitation.

More intense torrential rains result from warming temperatures; for every 1.8 ° F (1 ° C) increase, the atmosphere can contain 7 percent more humidity. With more water at their disposal, storms have the potential to dump enough rain to cause flooding.

Many of this year’s floods have highlighted how population centers and transit routes have been designed for a climate that may not reign for very long. For example, goods to and from Asia stalled at the flood-plagued port of Vancouver. In the big cities, subway tunnels were submerged and the streets turned into rivers.

Hurricane Ida: New Orleans to New York

Extreme rains are one of the main reasons climate change makes hurricanes worse. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston in 2017, is one of the most extreme examples. The storm has poured in 60 inch of rain in parts of Texas.

But it was Hurricane Ida that exemplified another dangerous trait of climate change hurricanes: rapid escalation. This happens when a hurricane’s winds increase by at least 35 mph in less than 24 hours. Ida far exceeded that rate, increasing by about 60 miles per hour in one day, going from a Category 1 storm to a Category 4 storm, her peak winds reaching 150 mph.

While Ida has moved relatively quickly, scientists expect future hurricanes to move slower on average over land, pouring more rain on one location and causing extreme flooding. This is exactly what Hurricane Harvey did over Houston; in 2020, Hurricane Sally stalled over Alabama. Researchers predict that future intense, rainy and slow-moving storms will cause more destruction; As the sea level continues to rise, the deadly storm surges caused by hurricanes will also worsen.

That the beginning

Scientists are still studying how climate change will influence winter weather conditions, and they are increasingly convinced that a warming Arctic is producing more severe winter storms.

A recently published to study found a possible link between the September frost in Texas and climate change, suggesting that the barrier between cold arctic air and warm tropical air is becoming increasingly unstable and that the polar vortex – the air flow moving through the stratosphere – is increasingly likely to produce intense winter storms.

As the world’s weather becomes more turbulent, the public may begin to perceive climate change differently.

A recent update of a national survey found that 70 percent of Americans surveyed believed climate change affected the weather. In the 14-year history of the poll, belief in climate change was the highest it has ever been: 76% of Americans polled thought it was happening and 52% thought they were personally affected by it.

Temperatures will continue to rise and extreme weather conditions may therefore continue to shape beliefs about climate change, emailed one of the survey’s authors, Edward Maibach, climate change communications expert at George Mason University.

“The hard truth is that most American communities will almost certainly experience increasingly severe weather events in the decades to come,” he says.


About Jefferey G. Cannon

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