As the world warms, we all feel the heat
If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average.
Because of our emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, a little extra energy gets trapped in our atmosphere every day. Over time, this energy builds up. It manifests itself in the form of higher temperatures, stronger storms, larger droughts, and melting ice. Global warming, then, isn’t about temperatures as much as it is about energy.
The extra energy, and its consequences, don’t get distributed evenly around the world. Weather systems, which move heat and moisture around the planet, aren’t very fair; they tend to bully some places more than others. These days, it’s almost as if the weather picks geographical targets each season to bombard with extremes, then moves on to somewhere else. This season, the main target seems to be North America.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January to June 2012 was the warmest first half of any year on record for the lower 48 states. In June alone, more than 3,000 daily high-temperature records were tied or broken. Furthermore, climate watchers are very concerned that all 10 of the warmest 12-month periods on record have occurred in the last 15 years. A new NOAA study concluded that recent extreme weather events are likely connected to human-induced climate change.
However, in an unchanging climate, there would be roughly the same amount of record highs as record lows. In a country like the United States, where temperature records are well catalogued and publicly available, it’s easy to see that this isn’t the case. From 2000-2009, there were twice as many record highs as record lows, and so far this year, there have been ten times as many: The signal of climate change on extreme weather is slowly, but surely, emerging. For those who are finding this summer uncomfortable, the message from the skies is clear: Get used to it. This is only the beginning.