The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

Meanwhile, Not in the News

2 Comments

Droughts, fires, tropical storms, tornadoes, they all make the news, but news is a fickle thing and it never stays in one place very long. What follows is a brief–and not intended to be exhaustive–summary of extreme weather around the world.

Droughts

About a third of the United States is in some form of drought as of this writing, but many of those droughts are mild or short-term. Monsoonal rains have eased severe drought conditions in some parts of the Southwest. “Monsoon,” by the way, does not mean “heavy rain” but is instead a season. During monsoon, the prevailing wind direction shifts, bringing a different, wetter, weather pattern. The Southwest is in monsoon now, but that does not mean all of it is getting rain and almost the entire region is still in some form of drought.

California does not get the Southwest monsoon because it is too far west. It is currently in its dry season, so its severe drought is simply getting worse and will until the fall at the earliest. This is the same drought I’ve discussed in these posts several times before, and it is almost certainly global warming-related.

Droughts mean fire danger (which also has connections to global warming), and indeed there are several large fires currently, mostly in Washington and Oregon, which are also in drought. However, despite the unseasonably severe fire activity early in the year, current fire activity for the US overall is about normal for July.

California is hardly alone. There are splotches of severe drought scattered all over the world right now. The largest such splotch is in Africa, mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an area the size of the Eastern US is entirely in one giant severe drought. A couple of minutes’ search online does not, however, yield any articles on current conditions in the impacted countries, though there was a lot of media attention about ecological and humanitarian problems there earlier in the year.

Heat Waves

Britain is having a hot summer. So far I haven’t found any indication that the heat is causing a disaster, but it is unusual; this summer could end up being their hottest in over 20 years. Asia had severe heatwaves this past May, which shifted East over Japan in June. I haven’t found detailed figures for July, yet, but June was abnormally hot for many countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Greenland, and Iceland (remember that Australia and New Zealand are in winter right now, so these are warm temperatures for June). Globally, this June had the seventh-hottest land temperatures on record. The other seven hot Junes were all in the past ten years, by the way. And this was right after the warmest May ever recorded.

Tropical Cyclones

Everything is quiet on the tropical cyclone front right now, with only two systems in existence, an unnamed tropical depression in the Atlantic and, in the Pacific, a tropical storm called Matmo that was once a Category 1 typhoon but is now falling apart over China. However, Matmo caused extensive damage in Taiwan and it is the second typhoon this month to hit China. Ramussun, before it, was China’s strongest typhoon in 40 years.

Floods

Parts of the United States and Canada have been badly flooded this month. A major pulse of floodwater is making its way down the Mississippi after flooding in June that closed some of St. Paul’s docks and parts of both Saskatchewan and Manitoba are under states of emergency. The Assiniboine, a tributary of the Red River, ran so so high that officials planned to deliberately allowed some areas to flood, inundating some 150 houses, in order to reduce pressure on the levies that protect Manitoba City. The reports I found are over a week old, so I do not know whether they went ahead with the flood diversion plan.  More modestly, my own part of the US sustained some road damage last week because of flooding from a series of rainstorms, culminating in a dump of 3 inches in a couple of hours over night.

Parts of England received flash floods during the same time period. Floods in parts of Western and Central Africa are causing serious humanitarian problems. Severe flooding in parts of Argentina are beginning to recede, allowing evacuees to start returning home.

Climate Change?

Does all of this extreme weather mean climate change? Some of it does and some of it probably doesn’t. Some extreme weather is normal, and our planet is very big, so if there wasn’t a problem somewhere that itself would be freakish. The heat waves are, of course, a bad sign, and both floods and droughts are predicted to increase as climate change progresses. But to say whether a given week of world weather is really extreme in a way that shows global warming’s thumbprint would take very careful analysis, which I did not do.

My point is not that this July has especially extreme weather, although it may. My point is that today, as I type this, the weather around me is beautiful and mild and when I turned on the news this morning, freakish, dangerous weather didn’t make the deadlines. Perhaps you, as you read this, are similarly blessed.

That doesn’t mean crazy weather isn’t happening.

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Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

2 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Not in the News

  1. If you know your UK weather history it’s not unusual here at all. The ups and downs of a meridional jetstream are well known for causing extremes – heat and drought included – and were identified back in the fifties and sixties when the world was subject to similar circulation patterns. That was also when the Pacific was in a cool phase. It’s just a shame that William the Conqueror didn’t have a thermometer.

  2. You are correct, however, I never said otherwise. Yes, of course extreme weather has always happened, and not just in the UK. An INCREASE in extreme weather events is a sign of climate change, but as I said in the article I do not know whether this month is unusual for the planet as a whole, except that it IS unusually hot. Please re-read the last three paragraphs of my piece.

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