Something’s Happening Here!
“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear”. Those lyrics are from the Ballad of Buffalo Springfield about that sad day at Kent State in 1970. I was a kid in high school studying geometry and chemistry and unaware of the political and socio-economical ramifications of that deadly day.
Now fast forward 42 years and I must ask the same question, but as it applies to modern climate in the 21st century. "There's truly something happening here”.
Think about it! The weather has been extraordinarily extreme recently.
First came the monster tornadoes of early March (late winter technically). While towns like Salyersville and West Liberty in Kentucky have been cleaned up, most folks have barely scratched the surface in the restoration process. It will be years before things can return to normal.
Less than two weeks later came a flash flood of monumental proportions as training thunderstorms swallowed the Mud Fork of Logan County. I have watched flash floods before, but the scene at Southern TCC was enough to take my breath away.
Of course March was merely the warmest in recorded history (dating back to the late 1800s) thanks to day after day of seemingly endless southerly winds.
Things settled down late April through most of May as the 100 year averages played out. Being average was indeed good for a change!
In fact when the hottest Memorial weekend in my 25 years at WSAZ baked us with our first heat wave I never even considered that an unusual event. Hey, it had to happen sooner or later, I surmised.
But by late June-July we were right back at it. First the top June heat wave since 1988, then a once or twice in a lifetime “Derecho” or long lasting wind storm roared through last Friday. Coming on the heels of 3 straight 100 degree days, a feat not seen since 1988, this vicious wind storm tracked more than 1200 miles from Chicago to the Virginia Tidewater packing winds of 60-90 mph.
The power outrages left behind this violent wind storm have been staggering. Way more than the ice storms of 2003 and 2009. More too than the brutal cold wave of January 1994.
So what exactly is happening here? Some scoff that this is the normal variation in our weather. Humm!
Consider, there have not been twisters like that in my 25 years (not even close).
The warm March is a one in 120 year event (our records date back to late 1800s) if you just do the elementary math. Might it occur again next year? It could but don’t bet on it.
Perhaps the video from the flash flooding in Lincoln and Logan Counties was caught by the I-Generation with their smart phones. Perhaps it happened before but nobody was there to grab it and send it. Who knows?
And now we swelter through Dust Bowl Days-like heat as drought begets heat and heat begets drought.
The coup de grace of this fatalistic pattern, the Friday night Derecho. A record amount of people were left with out power for our region. In my tenure here at WSAZ, only the ice storm of 2003 and cold wave of 1994 rival these events as “impacting the most lives adversely”.
So how to explain these events? Coincidental, perhaps? But I must tell you a story that resonates with me more and more these days.
Twenty years ago the science of global warming was just coming into its own in the meteorology journals that I read. Recall how Global warming (GW) refers the warming of our planet by burning fossil fuels like Oil and Coal. I still recall to this day in September of 1988 how the Seoul South Korea Summer Olympics were played against a hazy, smoggy, dirty city background where no EPA-like emission standards for cars and factories had been placed into effect.
I thought “so we are not the only ones who pollute the air” as Carl Lewis won gold!
The predictions for rising sea waters and melting polar ice caps as a result of fossil fuel burning caught the fancy of the media. Personally, I tended to brush away those long term prognostications (50+ years) in favor of something more immediate/short term.
You see the finest scientists in my field (OF WHICH I AM NOT ONE) proposed 20 years ago that on a globally warmed earth, weather extremes would become the normal.
Is it a coincidence then that many of our bizarre weather events and those elsewhere (Firestorm in Colorado, early season Tropical storms like Debby, record flooding in Europe this past spring and Asia last year) are happening more and more? And if so what atmospheric steroid must they be juicing on?
The steroid answer seems to be an easy one as the air is hotter these days. Even as you prep for bed tonight, DOWNTOWN TEMPERATURES are running 3-5 degrees warmer than the rural countryside. That booster shot of warm air comes courtesy of the asphalt roads and concrete buildings that suck in the day’s heat from the sun, then are much slower to thrust that heat to space when compared to a grassy, wooded meadow.
In addition as the planet has become more polluted, heat gets trapped near the earth’s surface and leads to a man-made warming of our fragile planet.
Now since warm air drives storms on our planet (hurricanes thrive on warm oceans, severe thunderstorms and cloudbursts derive their energy from hot days like an engine needs gasoline to run), it makes sense that on a globally warmed planet, our weather will become more extreme just as was predicted 20 years ago.
One final note; let me stress no one extreme weather event (Katrina, March 2 tornadoes, June 29th Derecho, summer heat wave 2012 etc) can be blamed on global warming. HOWEVER ON A GLOBALLY WARMED PLANET, EVENTS LIKE THESE WILL BE MORE COMMON IN THE YEARS AHEAD.
So 50 years from now, I believe we will look back and say yes those first predictions of extreme weather from the Global Warming scientists were spot on!