U.S. 2017 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters
Photo Credit: NOAA
Earlier this month, while the Trump administration quietly cancelled NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), concentrations of carbon dioxide at the Mauna Loa Observatory averaged above 410 parts per million (ppm) throughout April. With such irresponsible action, we-the-people must prepare ourselves for more extreme weather.
Extreme Weather & the Climate Crisis: What You Need to Know, published by the Climate Reality Project (March 2018), helps us to understand the challenges we now face. As the captioned NOAA chart shows, climate-related and other natural disasters are costly. Total damages in 2017 left the U.S. with a bill of $306 billion. Families who were hit are still recovering from their loss. Families in poor communities may never recover.
Here’s what we need to know about our extreme weather and the climate crisis. Bear in mind that weather refers to short-term atmospheric changes in temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, cloud cover, and visibility. Climate is the average of weather patterns over a longer period of 30 or more years.
Hurricanes – With average global sea surface temperatures becoming warmer, hurricanes can become more powerful. A warmer ocean also means an increase in evaporation, thereby feeding hurricanes with much more water to dump on those of us who live in their path. It gets worse. As melting ice caps and glaciers raise sea levels, storm surges caused by hurricanes will be stronger and carry water farther and farther inland.
Flooding – As air temperatures increase, more water evaporates into the atmosphere. Because warmer air holds more water vapor, some places get more rain and snow than their average annual amounts; other places may experience intense rainstorms. At the same time, rising sea levels are worsening coastal flooding worldwide.
Drought – Soils dry out when evaporation increases over land. When the rain comes, the hard, cracked ground absorbs little water. The run-off carries pollutants in the dry soil into our streams, rivers, and lakes. Drought also worsens forest fires.
Wildfires – Droughts kill plant life. Dried out, dead vegetation can ignite with a spark. Once started, these fires are harder to contain. With warm weather arriving earlier and extending further into the fall, we now face longer fire seasons. To make matters worse, pests like the mountain pine beetle thrive in the warm, dry weather. The dead trees dry out, adding to the fury of our forest fires.
Extreme Heat – Of the 18 hottest years on record, 17 have occurred this century. If we don’t reduce the greenhouse gases heating up our atmosphere, more and more of us will face the deadly threshold of extreme heat on our fragile human bodies.
Extreme Cold – As global temperatures rise and the Arctic continues to warm, the jet stream is slowing and becoming more wavy. This causes bone-chilling Arctic air to linger longer in northern regions and spread much farther south than usual.
While we cannot prevent climate-related natural disasters from occurring, it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to prevent the worst of it. And it certainly could get much worse.