This has been an extremely scary week of weather in the United States. Last Friday, a tornado ripped through the St. Louis airport (watch this dramatic footage) and then on Wednesday a series of tornadoes tore through the southern U.S. – killing more than 280 people. Tornadoes also touched down close to my home in the Washington, D.C. area, and a series of severe thunderstorms here have brought high winds, hail and intense lightning.
The damage to people, communities and livelihoods across our country is still being assessed, but, taken all together, these developments are downright scary. And folks want to know why this extreme weather is happening and with intensities we are not accustomed to seeing.
The answer is not a simple one. But, yesterday, I ventured back onto Fox News (following up an earlier appearance) to discuss the connection between extreme weather events and climate change impacts caused by carbon pollution.
The main point I wanted to make: with continued high levels of carbon pollution comes more overall warming. These carbon emissions and the resultant warming Earth are destabilizing our climate, and creating conditions consistent with the more frequent and intense storm activity we’re seeing today, and that climate scientists are projecting will increase in the coming decades.
The important thing to remember is that our planet is a system. It could be compared to our bodies. Imagine your body temperature increasing by just 2 or 3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a fever. Your body would react in different ways, such as sweating, weakness, aches, and nausea. The same goes for our planet’s system. Carbon pollution is making our planet sick and extreme weather is one symptom.
Despite the range of opinions featured in the Fox News segment, no one denied that climate change is happening or that warmer air holds more moisture (which can lead to more frequent and intense storms). The piece also rightly points out that making connections to any one specific weather event is a complex matter.
While it may be difficult to connect this particular week of tornadoes to climate change, scientists have long been predicting that carbon pollution would cause more frequent and extreme weather events such as intense rainstorms, snowstorms, and heat waves and create conditions that may fuel stronger hurricanes. And we’ve certainly seen all of these things in recent times at levels that seem out of the ordinary.
However, there is still time for us to reduce carbon pollution and, in the process, slow down rising global temperatures that can fuel natural disasters and put people and property at risk. We at The Conservancy are working on this every day.
(Image: The aftermath of a tornado in Cullman, Alabama taken on April 27, 2011. Image credit: southerntabitha/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)