If global warming continues to have its way, recent skyrocketing temperatures may become more commonplace, say scientists.
Global warming skeptics are faced with yet another series of weather patterns that support environmentalist’s theories on global climate change. Weather events in recent weeks include horrendous wildfires, oppressive heat waves, devastating droughts, flooding from giant deluges, and a powerful freak wind storm called a derecho — all of which scientists say may serve as a preview of what is to come.
Since January of this year, the United States has seen an increase in the signs of global warming. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, America has broken more than 40,000 high temperature records in comparison to fewer than 6,000 low temperature records. In total, 3,215 daily high temperature records were set in the month of June alone.
While scientists do not go so far to say that recent weather events are directly related to global warming, scientists have said that global warming is likely to produce more extreme weather, including tornadoes and hurricanes.
Jerry Meehl, a climate expert of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says in the first decade of this century America was setting two high temperature records for every cold one. This ratio has now increased to about seven hot records to one cold. Meehl continues to say that some computer models project that will increase to 20 to 1 by midcentury.
Although scientifically determining the cause of an individual weather pattern is a long and complex mathematical process, involving computer models and large amounts of time, climatologists know for sure that the recent high temperatures, drought, flooding, and derecho wind storms are the kind of weather we can expect in a globally-warmed future.
Even though it’s too early to say global warming is the cause, climate scientists have been warning the global community since 1988 that continued climate change will bring an increase in the spread and occurrence of wildfire and the severity of storms. Scientists have noted that most of the recent weather spats have occurred in the U.S.
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which met last March, warned of “unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.” The lead author of the panel, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, said Monday, “It’s really dramatic how many of the patterns that we’ve talked about as the expression of the extremes are hitting the U.S. right now.”
Some of the patterns Field is referring to are the 3,215 daily high temperature records the U.S. has broken since June. More than 113 million people were under a heat advisory last Friday and 2.1 million acres have been burned because of wildfires. In addition, two-thirds of the country is experiencing drought.
Meanwhile, Minnesota and Florida have experienced flooding. A freak windstorm (called a derecho) with five times the energy readings of a normal thunderstorm swept through Chicago and Washington, causing 20 deaths and millions of power outages. Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, said this is one of the most powerful windstorms in recent regional history, and that climate scientists expect an increase in these “non-tornadic wind events” as well as other thunderstorms due to increased heat and instability.
For the scientific community the recent weather events are serving as a time for reflection. Many climatologists have expressed concerns about the impact of the storms, noting that warnings issued by the scientific community have gone unnoticed in recent years.
Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer said prior to the recent events—such as the derecho and the triple-digit heat wave hitting the East coast—that weather could serve as a warning sign.
“What we’re seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like. It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters,” said Oppenheimer.
While heatwaves and freak weather events are likely to prompt speculation over the growing role of global warming, a recent poll finds that public opinion on the matter remains far behind. Climate change no longer ranks first on the list of what Americans see as the world’s biggest environmental problem, according to a new Washington Post-Stanford University poll. Just 18 percent of those polled name it as their top environmental concern. That compares with 33 percent who said so in 2007, amid publicity about a major U.N. climate report and Al Gore’s award-winning documentary.