Climate Change is Causing More Intense Storms

As we were re-scheduling projects and meetings because of the incoming blizzard, a co-worker from another department asked me:

Are we seeing more frequent and more intense storms because of climate change?

Yes, we are.

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Timmy standing in the path shoveled through 25″ of snow.

Even my colleagues that are not focused on the environment are changing the way they plan for extreme weather.  I work for a city, and when I talk with Public Works and Engineering staff, they don’t talk about climate change or why things are changing, they just “know” that when a weather event is described as a “100 year storm” they can expect to see that kind of storm about every 10 years now.  They plan that “10 year storms” are something to expect every two or three years.  This blizzard has been compared to both the devastating blizzard of 1978 that shut down Boston and the 2013 blizzard which was actually bigger. Two years later and we’ve had yet another record setting blizzard with over 30″ of snow in many communities in Eastern Massachusetts. In the past 12 months, in my city we’ve had three extreme rain events that have resulted in unusual flooding, and one blizzard. 

“Climate Change” means exactly that.  Our climate is changing.  Overall, the global temperatures of the earth is warmer.  The average ocean temperatures are warmer.  Sea level has risen which means storm surges (such as from Hurricane Sandy) are worse.  Warmer oceans means more evaporation which causes more moisture for storms. People like to point to lots of snow and say “see, the planet isn’t warming”, but the reality is, climate change means that specific areas are seeing different climate patterns than they used to see. Here in New England, we’re seeing more precipitation. In the South West United States, they are seeing much less precipitation. 

Global warming is like professional athletes on steroids in that a little change makes a big difference, as explained in this video by Jerry Meehl:

 

One of the changes we are seeing is a shifting of weather patterns. In New England on average, the air temperature is warmer, so we are seeing fewer snow storms and more rain in the winter. The ocean surface temperature near us is warmer than it used to be, so there is more water vapor in the atmosphere. Sometimes, the warmer water is enough to turn what would have been a snow event to rain.  Other times, the air is cold enough that we get snow, but because of the increased water content of the atmosphere, it dumps more snow on us at once than it used to. What we are finding is that average winter snowfalls are coming out to be about the same as in the past, but the snow is coming in fewer, more intense bursts.

In recent years, a higher percentage of precipitation in the United States has come in the form of intense single-day events. Nationwide, nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events have occurred since 1990.  – EPA Climate Change Indicators in the US, accessed 1/28/15

If you’re interested in reading further about changes in extreme weather events in the United States the 2014 National Climate Assessment was put together by over 300 experts and was extensively reviewed before publication.  The web version is easy to read and allows the technically curious to click on the graphs for extensive information about the supporting data. 

Figure: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation Caption: The map shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States. These trends are larger than natural variations for the Northeast, Midwest, Puerto Rico, Southeast, Great Plains, and Alaska. The trends are not larger than natural variations for the Southwest, Hawai‘i, and the Northwest. The changes shown in this figure are calculated from the beginning and end points of the trends for 1958 to 2012. (Figure source: updated from Karl et al. 20091).

Figure: Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation Caption: The map shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States. These trends are larger than natural variations for the Northeast, Midwest, Puerto Rico, Southeast, Great Plains, and Alaska. The trends are not larger than natural variations for the Southwest, Hawai‘i, and the Northwest. The changes shown in this figure are calculated from the beginning and end points of the trends for 1958 to 2012. (Figure source: updated from Karl et al. 20091). From 2014 National Climate Assessment Overview

I am confident in saying that climate change is making our weather more extreme and we should act now to address climate change and adapt to our changing situation.  Here is a metaphor from MIT professor Kerry Emanuel:

Suppose observations showed conclusively that the bear population in a particular forest had recently doubled. What would we think of someone who, knowing this, would nevertheless take no extra precautions in walking in the woods unless and until he saw a significant upward trend in the rate at which his neighbors were being mauled by bears?

 So yes, climate change is causing us to have more frequent extreme storms.  

If you want ideas of what you can do to reduce your impact on the planet, check out our Getting Started page.

Happy Greening,

Alicia

Not Running Against the Wind Anymore

When Jon and I first started writing Green Lifestyle Changes over 5 years ago, we felt that we had to write it. Very few people were talking about climate change or green living. We had become aware of the issue, and we were very concerned about increasing green house gas emissions, the rising temperature of the planet and changes that would occur as a result of climate change. We felt that we had to do what we could to educate people about what was going on and how to change their every day habits so as to have less negative impact on our planet. 

Wind Turbine at Energy FestivalWe both have enough of a scientific background to feel strongly that statements of fact have to be backed up with citations and proof, which is why we don’t write very many alarmist posts about the climate changing.  Those are hard posts to write because we feel we need to do research to find facts and scientific papers to back up what we are saying. I feel strongly that you should write about what you know, and what we felt we were experts in when we started, was how to live a greener life and have a smaller impact on the planet. Therefore, that is what we have primarily been writing about for the past five years.

Today, on my way home from church, I heard the song “Running Against the Wind” on the radio and it caused me to reflect that when we started writing this blog, we really felt like we were running against the wind.  We were talking about something that very few people were talking about and with our small amount of personal experience, we were considered experts. Today, the need to do something about climate change and reduce our impact on the planet is just as great if not greater, but we don’t feel alone in our efforts of outreach and education. 

I am now the Director of Energy and Environment for my city, and I’m paid to advise the Mayor, run programs and reduce my city’s impact on the planet. My position is well-respected and people throughout the city appreciate that we have someone who is paid to do this. Our family attends an Episcopal Church in our city where Jon and I chair the “Greening Grace” committee, which exists because there is a shared value within our congregation that caring for creation is part of the important and vital work that we do.  I actually just wrote the following as the introduction to the annual report for our committee:

The Community at Grace Church has such a strong sense of caring for creation that in some years it is difficult to capture everything we do for the environment within the Greening Grace umbrella.

A wonderful example of this is that after church today a friend came up to me and said “Noah [the Rector] and I have been planning a series of speakers and films for adult education during Earth Month. We’re trying to come up with one more speaker for a panel on local food and the earth and we’re wondering if you have any suggestions.” This made me feel good in so many ways, but today I’m reflecting on the fact that it means that this is not a mission that Jon and I are doing alone, “against the wind”, but there are many people raising awareness, making changes and running with us.  

Even running with the wind can be hard work and takes passion and energy, but it is so wonderful to be running with the wind and with friends, and not against it, anymore. Come join us, run with the wind too. Make a small change in your life to reduce your impact on the environment and then tell everyone you know so that we can all run together.

Happy Greening,

Alicia

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