Climate Change and Extreme Weather

I’ve been planning to write this post for awhile and tonight while I write it we just happen to be under a tornado watch. Oklahoma isn’t a stranger to tornadoes but this tornado season has had an early start. There have already been a lot of tornadoes and normally our season would just be starting.

Now first before going in to the extreme weather we must talk about the differences with weather and climate. A simple way of putting it is weather is the short term, while climate is long term. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe does a good job of explaining this issue in her book, “A Climate for Chance.”

“Weather is what our minds are designed to remember. It describes conditions from day to day, week to week, and even from year to year. Weather is that one sweltering week in July, or the coldest November on record, or the snowiest winter ever.

Climate, on the other hand, is nearly impossible for us to remember. It describes the average weather conditions over tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years. Climate is the average temperature or rainfall in a certain place, based on what it’s been like for decades.”

Okay now on to extreme weather and how that can be related to climate change. Oklahoma was a poster child for extreme weather last year, we had a record drought, broke the state record for most snow to fall in 24 hoursbroke the record for coldest day, had the warmest July on record for the whole U.S., record windspeedrecord wildfires, the largest earthquake reported in the state, and more. It was a crazy year to say the least.

This trend is not just something Oklahoma is feeling, all over the world extreme weather seems to be becoming more normal. But this is all weather right? So, how does that relate to the long term that is climate? Well, a new study shows the possibility for a bigger threat of extreme weather due to climate change.

“By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate.

If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.” -read more

This leads scientist to fear a large acceleration of the water cycle could mean more extreme weather and a greater risk of harm to our food supply, due to droughts in some areas and flooding in others.

While a single event can’t be tied to climate change, the increase in frequency is consistent with the new study’s findings. A climatologist in Australia talks about this when talking about the heat wave in Australia in 2009.

“Climate change is not only increasing average temperatures, but also the frequency and severity of extreme temperature events. While any one event cannot be attributed to climate change, this heat wave is certainly consistent with that expectation. In a warming world we can expect similar extreme events more often.”- Perry Wiles, Climatologist

This all hits home with me as I listen to the thunderstorm outside that has rocked the state and even dropped some damaging tornadoes. And I also think back to last year and all of the extreme weather, including the horrible drought that hurt the state so very much and caused me some sleepless nights worrying about the wildfires my dad, a volunteer firefighter, was out fighting.

With this information I encourage everyone to be extra prepared for disasters. I know I have been thinking more about being prepared for tornadoes, fires, droughts and the many other disaster Oklahoma may face. Heck, last year we had a quakenado, a tornado and earthquake at the same time! So are you and your family thinking a bit more about being prepared for disasters lately? If so, how prepared? Like a few weeks worth like the American Red Cross often recommends or hardcore prepared like the people on Doomsday Preppers?

This post is part of the Connect the Dots, Green Mom’s Carnival, hosted by Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse. The carnival goes live Friday, May 5, 2012. Be sure to check out Big Green Purse on Friday to see the rest of the posts about connecting the dots on climate change.

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Photo credit: NOAA Photo Library