Global warming is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier, hurricanes stronger and droughts more severe. In all probability, this intensification of weather and climate extremes will be the most visible impact of global warming in our everyday lives. Less obviously, because changes creep up on you, it is also causing dangerous changes to the landscape of our world, adding stress to wildlife species and their habitat.
A warming ocean has more heat energy that might feed storms and lead to stronger hurricanes. When major storms do strike, higher sea levels will result in greater storm surges and coastal flooding. As the Arctic warms, circumpolar wind patterns are disrupted, they alter the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the northern hemisphere.
As a consequence, the jet stream now has steeper troughs and higher ridges. Weather systems in turn progress more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, extreme snowfall in winter, and heat waves. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture; without global warming, many recent heat-waves might not have occurred.
Weather events will always be subject to natural variability. But weather extremes are one predicted consequence of a changing climate, and the evidence is growing that recent examples of those extremes are not isolated, but rather harbingers of a new normal in a warming world.
Power outages are becoming more common, oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico is at risk as hurricanes and tropical storms intensify; coal transport by rail and barge across the midwest and northeast of the USA will face flooding disruptions, and electricity generation in the southwest will be limited by water shortages and more extreme heat.
More and more Americans will be living in places highly vulnerable to weather and climate extremes as population continues to grow rapidly in cities, along the coasts and in the south. global warming will add further stress to existing problems in urban areas, in particular poverty, inequities in access to health care, aging infrastructure and air pollution. Minorities will be disproportionally impacted.
By some accounts, unchecked global warming will worsen respiratory allergies for countless millions of sufferers worldwide and have a significant impact on world economies: allergies and asthma already cost the United States more than $32 billion annually in direct health care costs and lost productivity.
US Government scientists at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, are saying that man-made climate change has increased the probability of longer and more intense heat waves.
In recent years, the U.S. has been breaking high temperature records at a ratio of 10-to-1 over cold temperature records. In the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, the typical ratio was 1-to-1.
More than 26,000 new record temperature highs were set in 2012 alone in the United States. According to NOAA, June 2012 marked the 36th consecutive June and 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
A recent study by NOAA scientists found that the conditions leading to the 2011 Texas drought are 20 times more likely to occur now, in a world warmed by greenhouse gas emissions, than in the 1960s. Global warming intensifies both drought and heat, making drought events even dryer and heat waves even warmer than they otherwise would have been. Summer wildfires are promoted by hot and extremely dry conditions as is below normal snowfall during winter.
Over the past 30 years, large and long-duration forest fires in the American West have increased fourfold, the length of the fire season has expanded by 2.5 months, and the size of wildfires has increased several-fold. It is only a matter of time before the forests of Saint Lucia are decimated by similar catastrophic fires – and we have nowhere near the resources to fight them that America has!
Cop 21 must succeed where others have failed. We must cap the rise in temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius or we will perish, which is why we have adopted the motto “1point5tostayalive”: 1.5 to stay alive!