The Not-So-Natural Disasters

I never thought I would say this, but I miss the snow. I miss having snow during the holidays, I miss skiing on real snow, and I miss it when my snowman used to last more than one day. The snow helped me keep track of what time of the year it was. Right now, it feels like April. Most people, I would say, are pleased with this new weather occurrence. No more shoveling the driveway, no more black ice, and no more big puffy winter coats. I, on the other hand, see past all of these novelties, and recognize what is truly happening – climate change. Fewer cold days are the least of our worries compared to the other extreme weather events occurring worldwide.

Often, people misinterpret climate change as ‘global warming’. Climate is defined as type, frequency, and intensity of weather events as a result of average temperature. Rising global temperatures will cause extreme weather events, such as heat waves, cold waves, storms, floods, and droughts. These extreme weather events will vary in frequency, but will definitely increase in intensity and duration. Single-day rainfalls that used to occur once every 20 years now occur twice a decade. Hurricanes and tropical cyclone numbers are predicted to decrease, but occur with fiercer winds and stronger intensity, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These heavy precipitation events have resulted in severe flooding along coastal regions. The ten warmest years on record have occurred over the past 20 years, with last summer setting 2,703 daily high temperature records. In the southern regions, these intense heat waves have resulted in extreme drought and countless forest fires.

“…greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the Earth system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events. The abrupt changes of the past are not fully explained yet, and climate models typically underestimate the size, speed, and extent of those changes. Hence, future abrupt changes cannot be predicted with confidence, and climate surprises are to be expected.” National Research Council

As a result of climate change, more than 710,000 people have died from one of the 14,000 extreme weather events that occurred between 1991 and 2010. The cost to repair the damages caused by these extreme weather events is over 2.3 trillion dollars. Climate change is not the only factor in these mortality rates. Global populations have increased exponentially and the majority of these people live in poverty. Those living in poverty are more at risk to be affected by climate change because they choose to reside in harm’s way.

Would these extreme weather events have occurred, regardless of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions? Well, the climate system can be affected by changes in the Earth’s orbit, brightness of the Sun, and the relative strength of ocean currents. It is fair to say that these weather events would occur, regardless of greenhouse gas emissions; however, greenhouse gas emissions increase the severity of these naturally occurring weather events. So who cares if we don’t get any snow? Well, quite frankly, I do, and I wish it wouldn’t take an extreme weather event like a tsunami or an earthquake to get people’s attention.

For more information on how you can help disaster victims, visit the Red Cross Website.

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