Is Extreme Weather The New Norm?
Written by Lisa Sharp
Most of the United State has experienced extreme weather this summer. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOOA) announced that the lower 48 states had the hottest July since 1895. During July 2012, temperatures were 3.3 degrees above the average for the 20th century. And it wasn’t just July that was hot, March was the warmest on record as well.
The heat and lack of rainfall has pushed nearly 63 percent of the lower 48 states into a drought.
Will the extreme heat and drought become the new norm? A new study examines six decades of global temperature data and concludes that the sharp increase in the frequency of extreme heat in the summer can only be the result of human-caused global warming.
Weather Vs. Climate
One thing that is important to understand when talking about climate change is the difference between weather and climate. A very simple way of looking at this is: weather is short term, and climate is long term. Climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe, explains this in her book, “A Climate For Change: Global Warming Facts For Faith-Based Decisions.”
Weather is what our minds are designed to remember. It describes conditions from day to day, week to week, and even from year to year. Weather is that one sweltering week in July, or the coldest November on record, or the snowiest winter ever.
Climate, on the other hand, is nearly impossible for us to remember. It describes the average weather conditions over tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years. Climate is the average temperature or rainfall in a certain place, based on what it’s been like for decades.
James E. Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies paints a pretty scary picture in a recent article for the Washington Post. When Hansen testified before the Senate in the summer of 1988, he warned us about climate change. He grimly outlines the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.
Here’s what I find particularly scary:
…too optimistic…my projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather…In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures…my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
Hansen says events such as the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the extreme droughts in my home state of Oklahoma and Texas last year can be attributed to climate change. He also believes the same is likely to be true for the current heat wave blanketing much of the U.S.
The New Norm
Earlier this year the USDA updated the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, due to changes in the climate. With the changes we are currently witnessing, one has to wonder, will they have to change the map again soon?
What will happen to our food supply if farmers can no longer grow the same crops? In Oklahoma, we are already seeing changes. One noticeable change is the fact that vineyards are popping up around the state. Oklahoma’s climate was always too wet for wine grapes, but it is becoming drier and drier, which lends the land to grape growing. While this change isn’t bad for local food lovers that want a good local wine, other areas suffer. Beef is a big industry in Oklahoma, but now many ranchers are getting out of the business because grazing land and hay are difficult to come by.
This leaves me with a few questions:
- Will excessive heat and drought be the new norm for my state?
- Can we slow down and even stop climate change, or will we have to adapt?
- What are some of the changes that have come about because of the changing climate in your state?
- Can the presidential candidates please have a serious conversation about climate change without arguing and politicizing the issue? We want answers NOW!
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