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Another season of extreme weather events is upon us. A severe storm, with winds up to 70 miles per hour, whipped its way from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Colorado is experiencing one of its worst wildfires in history—the Black Forest Fire has burned 15,700 acres, displaced more than 38,000 people, and impacted 13,000 homes. These events are reminders of what the world will look like as our climate system moves into increasingly dangerous and unfamiliar territory.

Temperatures hit an unseasonably warm 61˚F in Washington D.C. earlier this week. The Middle East is blanketed in record rainfall and rare heavy snowfall, ending a nearly decade-long drought. Australia witnessed its hottest day on record this past week, stoking wildfires. And China is experiencing a bitterly cold winter, where temperatures are the lowestthey’ve been in almost three decades. We’re only two weeks into 2013, and already we are getting a reminder of the extreme year we just emerged from.

According to new data, 2012 was a chart-topping year for the United States – but not in a good way. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climate Data Center (NCDC) recently declared 2012 to be the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States. This year shattered the previous record temperature, set in 1998, by 1.0°F. The year was also marked by 11 extreme weather events that each caused more than $1 billion of damages.

Hurricane Sandy was a massive and deadly storm, extending more than 1,000 miles, bringing huge waves and more than 13 feet of water to parts of New York City. In Manhattan, floods swept away cars and overflowed subway stations. Along the Jersey shore, homes, property, and businesses were washed away in just a few hours. More than 8 million people in the northeastern United States lost power. Tens of millions more have been affected. And tragically, more than 160 people lost their lives. Outside of the United States, six Caribbean countries were battered by the storm, taking lives and destroying property as it struck. Some early estimates say the storm will cost $50 billion; others say it will be more.

The recent silence on climate change in the U.S. political discourse is extremely troubling. As we can see from the recent spate of extreme weather events, the costs of inaction are clear in terms of both environmental and economic impacts. If we are going to meet the challenge of the global climate threat, we need to have a real, rational discussion about climate change. Having that discussion requires national leadership on this issue.

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