Extreme Weather On the Rise

December, 2016

[This is the short version of the article featured in the print edition of EcoNews. The full version can be read here.]

Thanks to new data, research, and studies speaking to the veracity of global warming and human-induced climate change, some of the staunchest resisters are now coming to their senses and recognizing the very real issues our world faces in the coming decades. 

Last year, hurricane research conducted by Florida State geography professor Jim Elsner and Namyoung Kang, deputy director of the National Typhoon Center in South Korea was published in Nature Climate Change. The research found that warmer ocean temperatures—induced by manmade climate change—are fueling stronger hurricanes. “We’re seeing fewer hurricanes, but the ones we do see are more intense,” Elsner said. “When one comes, all hell can break loose.” 

Heat waves are also getting stronger and becoming more prolonged. 

Month after month, we’re seeing records shattered for the hottest months in recorded history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded an unprecedented 16 straight months of record-setting temperatures through October of this year. 

“There has never been a run of hot months like this in the 1,641 months (or 136-plus years) of data at NOAA’s disposal,” says Brian Kahn of Climate Central. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states that 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred after the year 2000, and that 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record. 

“The scary thing is that we are moving into an era where it will be a surprise when each new month or year isn’t one of the hottest on record,” says Chris Field, climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution. 

It’s not always easy to identify the relationships and understand cause and effect, but the connections are becoming increasingly clear. There are four major things that scientists and researchers look for when studying changes in extreme weather and climate events: frequency, intensity, duration, and timing.

“There have been changes in some types of extreme weather events in the United States over the last several decades, including more intense and frequent heat waves, less frequent and intense cold waves, and regional changes in floods, droughts, and wildfires,” the EPA notes. “This rise in extreme weather events fits a pattern you can expect with a warming planet.”

While some have said we have 20-50 years to reverse course, others are now saying that we could see dramatic effects in less than five years. The time to take action is now, or else we can expect to see the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events increase in the months to come.