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Climatologists have railed about the dangers of climate change for years, but the federal government has largely ignored or dismissed their claims. Recently, in the face of deafening public outcry, official policy has started to turn, and a new report from the federal government adds urgency to the global warming crisis. In “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate,” the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that global warming has seriously screwed with our planet’s weather system, and the results aren’t going to be pretty.
In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.
That doesn’t sound good. NOAA calls our impending extreme weather cycle “among the most serious challenges to society.” The report even foreshadows the catastrophic floods that have put large swaths of the Midwest underwater.
Some short-term actions taken to lessen the risk from extreme events can lead to increases in vulnerability to even larger extremes. For example, moderate flood control measures on a river can stimulate development in a now “safe” floodplain, only to see those new structures damaged when a very large flood occurs.
Anyone in Iowa would likely agree, but the message comes too late: The torrential floods pouring out of the Mississippi have already taken lives and caused billions of dollars of damage. Now it’s time to look at what can still be done to prevent city streets from becoming fish hatcheries in the future.
— Ted Alvarez