welcome to the new weird
welcome to the new weird

welcome to the new weird

This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for sentiment analysis and news. It was originally published on The conversation.

The summer of 2022 began with a historic flood in Montana, triggered by heavy rains and melting snow, that destroyed roads and prompted the evacuation of large areas of Yellowstone National Park.

It ended with an unprecedented heat wave in California and much of the West that pushed the power grid to breaking point, causing power outages, followed by a tropical storm that set rainfall records in California from South. A typhoon flooded the coast of Alaska and a hurricane hit Puerto Rico with more than 12 inches of rain.

Meanwhile, wildfires swept across California, Arizona and New Mexico amid a mega-drought in the US Southwest that was worse than anything the region has experienced in at least 1,200 years. Near Albuquerque, New Mexico, a five-mile stretch of the Rio Grande has dried up for the first time in 40 years. Persistent heat waves persisted in many parts of the country, setting temperature records.

At the same time, in a five-week period between July and August, five 1,000-year rainfall events occurred in Saint Louis, eastern Kentucky, southern Illinois, California, Death Valley, and Dallas, causing flash flooding devastating and sometimes deadly. Extreme rains also caused severe flooding in Mississippi, Virginia, and other West Virginia.

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in Pakistan, record monsoon rains flooded more than a third of the country, killing more than 1,500 people. In India, other prolonged droughts and searing heat waves have dried up rivers, disrupted power grids and threatened the food security of billions of people.

In Europe, heatwaves are setting record temperatures in the UK and elsewhere, leading to severe droughts and wildfires in many parts of the continent. In South Africa, torrential rains caused floods and landslides that killed more than 400 people. Summer may be over on the calendar, but the weather disasters are sure to continue.

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This isn’t just a freak summer: these extreme events have been occurring with increasing frequency and intensity over the years.

Much of the Southern and Southern Plains experienced a dangerous heat wave in July 2022, with highs reaching over 100 degrees for several days. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Climate change is intensifying these disasters

the latest international climate assessment by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found significant increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme temperature and precipitation events, leading to more droughts and floods.

A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature found that extreme floods and droughts are also increasingly deadly and expensive, despite improved capacity to manage climate risks. This is because these extreme events, fueled by climate change, often exceed levels designed for such management strategies.

A girl in rain boots walks through a muddy yard.  Damaged mattresses and other belongings from a flooded home are stacked nearby.
Flash floods swept through the mountain valleys of eastern Kentucky in July 2022, killing more than three dozen people. It was one of many destructive floods. Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Extreme events, by definition, are rare. A 100-year flood has a 1% chance of occurring in a given year. So when such events occur with increased frequency and intensity, they are a clear indication of a changing climate state.

The term “global warming” can sometimes be misleading because it seems to imply that as humans put more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world will get a little warmer everywhere. What it fails to convey is that rising temperatures are also leading to a more violent world with more extreme weather disasters, as we saw last summer.

Climate models have shown that these risks are looming

Many of these are well understood and consistently reproduced by climate models.

As the climate warms, a change in temperature distribution leads to more extremes. The magnitudes of changes in extreme temperatures are usually larger than average changes. For example, globally, a 1 degree Celsius increase in mean annual temperature is associated with a 1.2 C to 1.9 C (2.1 Fahrenheit to 3.4 F) increase in annual maximum temperature.

A man works on a car with an older mechanic in overalls standing next to him in the shade of a large beach umbrella.
Heat waves, such as the heat dome over the south in July 2022, can hit outdoor workers particularly hard. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

In addition, global warming causes changes in the vertical profile of the atmosphere and temperature gradients from the equator to the poles, causing changes in the way the atmosphere and ocean move. The temperature difference between the equator and the poles is the driving force of the global wind. As the polar regions warm at much faster rates than the equator, the reduced temperature difference causes the global wind to weaken and lead to a meandering jet stream.

Some of these changes can create conditions such as persistent high pressure systems and atmospheric blockages that favor more frequent and more intense heat waves. heat domes over the southern and southern plains in June and the west in September are examples.

The initial warm-up can be further amplified by positive feedback. For example, warming increases snowmelt, exposing the dark soil below, which absorbs more heat than snow, further increasing warming.

Warming the atmosphere also increases its ability to hold water vapor, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Therefore, more water vapor in the air leads to more warming. Higher temperatures tend to dry out the soil, and low soil moisture reduces the heat capacity of the soil, making it easier to heat.

These positive feedbacks further intensify the initial warming, leading to more heat extremes. More frequent and persistent heat waves lead to excessive evaporation, combined with low precipitation in some regions, resulting in more severe droughts and more frequent wildfires.

High temperatures increase the atmosphere’s ability to hold moisture at a rate of about 7% per degree Celsius.

This increased humidity leads to more intense rain events. Additionally, thunderstorm systems are powered by latent heat, or the large amount of energy released when water vapor condenses into liquid water. Higher moisture content in the atmosphere also increases the latent heat in storm systems, increasing their intensity. Extremely heavy or persistent rainfall causes an increase in floods and landslides, with devastating social and economic consequences.

While it is difficult to link certain extreme events directly to climate change, when these supposedly rare events are occurring with increasing frequency in a warming world, it is difficult to ignore the changing state of our climate.

the new abnormal

So last summer may offer a glimpse into our near future as these extreme weather events become more frequent.

However, to say that this is the new “normal” is misleading. This suggests that we have reached a new steady state, and that is far from the truth.

Without a serious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this trend toward more extreme events will continue. Things will continue to get worse, and last summer will become the norm in a few years or decades, and eventually it will seem bland, like one of those “beautiful summers” we remember fondly and nostalgically.

Shuang Ye Wu He is a professor of geology and environmental geosciences at the University of Dayton.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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