Regardless of where you live, chances are the weather has been anything but the norm.
Dangerous wildfires in California. Inches of snow in the Deep South. One extreme to the next. And who knows what might be coming.
Plenty of people are probably giddy that temperatures have been abnormal for this time of year, generally leaning toward the warmer side. Where I live, it’s just now getting to the expected 20-30 degrees each day. While it was nice to not be freezing as many days walking to class, in the back of my head, I’m antsy about feeling extra warmth because it comes back to a sole reason why it’s happening in the first place.
Climate change: the phrase we’re now throwing out into the forefront, something we should have done much earlier. We’ve known about this trend long enough, have seen the signs. Except how much are we listening and changing accordingly?
As I write this, the wildfires around Los Angeles catalyzed by the Santa Ana winds are starting to die down, but the damage left behind is devastating. Collectively, over 175,000 acres of land have turned to ash. That means thousands of structures destroyed and even more people evacuated. Even with as many firefighters available to help, it’s still not enough as they face conditions never seen before.
The snow raging through the Southeast and onto New England has led to record numbers not seen in decades. South Texas most notably saw snowfall last Thursday, an occurrence extremely unusual, especially since not too long ago we were talking about Hurricane Harvey and all the severe weather that left these same people at risk of displacement.
Why the huge changes in weather?
Prior to last year, we weren’t able to scientifically link climate change with any specific weather event. New research from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that’s no longer the case: scientists can now determine with some confidence the degree climate change influenced some extreme weather events. Extreme heat and extreme cold are the easiest to attribute to climate change, followed by drought and extreme rainfall. The effect of climate change on weather events like tornadoes and wildfires can be especially difficult to assess because of the many variables that come into play, including factors beyond weather.
Since the earth has naturally cooled and warmed over its history, you might say this should be no different. But the climate change we’re experiencing and causing is at a rapid pace. This leads to extremes in air pressure which, in turn, leads to extremes in weather patterns typical of the last few years.
What should we expect in the future?
Well, a lot more of this if we keep up the pace. The overarching weather pattern responsible for the contrasting extremes between the coasts is known as the North American Winter Dipole. It is fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East. Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half.
But the severe weather isn’t isolated in the States. From the polar icecaps melting, to 2010’s mass flooding in Pakistan, to heatwaves in Australia, to every other abnormal condition on any continent, when we continue to trap carbon dioxide, we’re trapping excess energy that has no means of release besides the global jet streams.
How can we move forward from here?
The answer is obvious, and it’s the same answer we’ve been hearing: cut carbon emissions. Globally, we need to meet the goals we’ve set and not be blinded by hopes of big money in harmful industries like coal and oil. We need to continue promoting reusable energy. Individuals need to focus on their daily routines to ensure they are avoiding excess waste.
At every scale, we need to take climate change seriously. It’s not something we can just put on the back burner and eventually get to. There are lives at risk. If not now, then soon. With the extremes we’re seeing, it’s harder to then predict and prepare for the worst, but this preparation is only alleviating the harms we’re causing rather than proactively addressing those causes.
Let’s take care of those in the line of natural disaster and extreme weather. But let’s also take care of the environment obviously angered by our actions.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie