“Going to the Extremes” – Climate Change and Weather Events

With the recent occurrence of Hurricane Sandy, climate change has once again been drawn to our attention. More and more evidence is being discovered linking climate change to extreme weather events. In September 2012, the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Energy and Commerce teamed up to put together this report: Going to Extremes: Climate Change and the Increasing Risk of Weather Disasters, further confirming that as the average global temperature rises, the number and severity of weather events continues to increase.

The  report focuses on weather phenomena from 2012, particularly extreme temperatures and drought. “This extreme summer follows a period of unusual weather that has plagued the country for more than a year, including an unusually warm winter and an early spring drought. In fact, August 2011 to July 2012 is the warmest 12-month period that the continental United States has experienced since the beginning of record keeping in 1895.” 90% of record temperatures in 2012  were highs, where in a world unaffected by climate change an even split of record highs and lows would occur. Other weather events are also briefly mentioned in “Going to the Extremes”, including storms, wildfires, and changing water levels due to lack of precipitation.

So how will the new normal weather affect us in the future?  The report lists several problems that are going to occur from climate change; one such problem connects heat waves and lack of precipitation to energy use.  Air conditioning units will run more often due to heat waves lasting for longer periods of time, increasing energy consumption. Not only will there be higher energy consumption, but there will also be lower energy production. Less precipitation means lower water levels in rivers, decreasing the productivity of energy plants since water is either used to produce energy (hydroelectric plants) or cool the energy-producing equipment down. Lack of precipitation will have other consequences as well: it will be even harder to extinguish the fires that claim record amounts of land. Lack of precipitation could also lead to a crop crisis, making it difficult for humanity to feed itself.

Even though “Going to the Extremes” primarily focuses on weather extremes in the last few years, there is other research that proves that global average temperatures have been rising over several decades. The recent report by NASA, “Perception of Climate Change”, uses statistical analysis to show how average temperatures have risen across the globe by comparing average temperatures recorded in June through August of the base period 1951-1980, to more recent years.

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