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What Climate Change Feels Like: US Heat Waves, Wild Fires and Violent Storms

What Climate Change Feels Like: US Heat Waves, Wild Fires and Violent Storms

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The US has been ravaged by the effects of climate change in the past six months and it is no longer an issue anyone can ignore. In March alone, 15,000 warm-weather records were broken. The Colorado wildfires raged for weeks, destroying homes, livelihoods and thousands of acres of forest.  A rare derecho tore through the Washington, DC area last weekend, ripping down trees and utility poles. This storm left approximately 1.2 million homes without power and killed at least 5 people.

Many still without power from the storm were further pressured by a massive heat wave which brought record highs to the eastern half of the US this weekend, breaking records in a dozen states from the Midwest to the East coast. On Saturday, temperatures reached 105ºF in Washington DC for the 4th consecutive day, tying a record set July 19-22, 1930. St Louis extended its record for consecutive days over 100ºF to 10, reaching 107ºF on Saturday. Though the temperatures have dropped, the heat can be blamed for at least 74 deaths, including a 4 month girl and a 92-year old man.

There have been about 40,113 high temperature records set or tied this year already, compared to only 5,835 record lows. The 7-1 ratio between the highs and lows is shocking. In a normal year, the number of record highs and lows would be about equal and there is still half the summer left. Though many are still arguing that extremes happen, regardless of climate change, we cannot overlook the past six months as “normal” extremes in the usual weather patterns. The extreme weather this year has been out of the ordinary and may be setting a precedent for what we can expect in future weather events.

The IPCC’s Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters stated earlier this year that extreme weather events will increase as the global climate warms due to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly half the US has doubted this fact in the past, seeing climate change as an issue that affects other people in more vulnerable places. However, these recent weather events have convinced more in the US that climate change is real and that it is affecting our country more than we may think. Although unfortunate, the first-hand experience of these extreme weather events have caused many to understand that the climate is changing in a big way and that everyone is touched by these changes.

As temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather events become more prevalent, the US must prepare for the likelihood of increased violent storms and heat waves. Though the past six months have been an extraordinary case and patterns are likely to fluctuate, these events have caused millions of dollars worth of damage; preparing for potential future events would streamline our response, ultimately saving time, money and lives.

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