The Science: The Weather

Global Warming Disrupts Hydrological Cycle :

  • As the climate changes, even years without El Nino events are seeing increased precipitation anomalies, including both extremely heavy rains and increasingly severe droughts.
  • By the end of summer 2002, over 50% of the United States was experiencing drought conditions and forest fires had burned nearly twice the average number of acres.
  • At the same time, in Europe, record rains soaked the continent, causing a "500 year flood" in Germany and the Czech Republic killing 98 and devastating crops.
  • In the Great Plains region, the current three-year drought has been the worst since The Great Depression and threatens to recreate the Dustbowl conditions of the 1930s.
  • In England, a drought lasting from May 1995-May 1997 was the driest two-year period in England since humidity records began to be kept 230 years ago.
  • The New York Times reports that the 2003 drought in India has created "an arid landscape that had been lush", with water tables down to 150 to 500 feet from 5 and 25 feet (and) sludgy puddles where lakes had been after a string on 115 degree days.
  • As of December, 2003 over 50% of the United States is still suffering drought conditions.

Increasingly Violent Weather:

  • Since heat basically drives the Earth's entire weather system, an increase in the Earth's temperature results in changes to the Earth's entire weather system. By putting more heat energy into the system, we risk creating more energetic weather, worsening the severity of winds, storms, and droughts.
  • The Earth's weather system is becoming destabilized, more erratic, more extreme. As more heat has accumulated in our weather system, we are witnessing increasingly erratic weather events such as floods, increasingly severe storms, blizzards, hurricanes, and prolonged droughts resulting in more frequent crop failures and more destructive forest fires.
  • The Earth's climate is now becoming profoundly unbalanced. We are continually confronted with "odd" or "unprecedented" weather events: "the worst drought in fifty years", "once-in-a-lifetime" storms, and "five-hundred year floods".
  • One of the reasons that our weather is becoming increasingly destructive is that global warming is causing the creation of ever more powerful winds. Wind is produced when areas of high barometric pressure push into areas of lower pressure. The greater the difference between the two pressures of these two areas, the more violent will be the wind. The more heat energy that is added to our weather system by global warming, the more extreme the gradients between high pressure and low pressure systems. As global warming causes these differences to become more extreme, the more extreme become the winds.
  • Not only are the storms windier and more powerful, they are wetter too. In the past five years, nearly all previous precipitation records have been broken by large margins as extreme precipitation events have risen 3 to 4 times over what had been normal.

More Heat Waves:

  • Global warming will bring with it a substantial increase in the number of extremely hot days.
  • With a doubling of pre-industrial levels of CO2 expected by 2030, we can expect that the average number of 90-degree days in New York City will rise from 15 to 48. In Washington D.C. the number of 90 degree days would leap from 36 to 87. In Denver, the number of 90-degree days would rise from 33 to 86. Washington D.C.'s 100 degree days would jump from 1 to 12, Omaha's from 3 to 21, Memphis's from 4 to 42.
  • Extremely warm temperatures will also combine with increasingly high humidity to create increasingly deadly heat waves like the one that hit Chicago in July, 1995, killing over 700 people.
  • One signature aspect of global warming is that average nighttime temperatures will warm proportionally more than daytime temperatures. During a heat wave this means that temperatures stay hot even at night, and buildings don't have an opportunity to cool down.
  • In Chicago, 106 degree temperatures combined with two nights where temperatures failed to drop below 89 degrees conspired to turn houses and apartments into ovens.
  • Midwest heat wave July, 1999. Authorities are better prepared to deal with the crisis this time as the heat index again reaches 118 degrees, but even still, 232 people died.
  • These events are occurring in the United States, a prosperous nation with a relatively strong public health infrastructure. Similar heat waves throughout the developing world can be expected to kill thousands more.
  • In the last four years, India has suffered two killer heat waves. In 1998, Indian temperatures topped 122 degrees, killing over 4,000 people. A heat wave this past summer again killed well over 1,000.
  • During last summer's unprecedented heat waves in Europe, over 14,000 people in France and 7,000 people in Italy —many of them elderly—died of heat related causes.
  • The World Health Organization now estimates that over 160,000 people per year die as a result of global warming.
  • It is important to remember that these are only some of the early effects of global warming. Unless we change course, we can expect things to get much, much worse. That is why it is so important that we act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that we can begin to slow and ultimately reverse global warming.

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