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Heat waves. Floods. Forest fires. The summer has been destructive so far, and the forecast for droughts, fires and hurricanes looks downright bleak.
We know climate change is to blame. But how exactly is global warming causing dangerous weather conditions?
Lauren Sommer and Rebecca Hersher of the NPR Climate Team explained it to us on Morning edition.
🎧Listen or read on for more details ⤵️
The country is experiencing a new heat wave this week. Is it just us or is this summer unusual?
These aren’t just our memories – last June was the hottest June on record in the United States in over a century, about four degrees warmer on average. Heat waves (as in the Pacific Northwest) can be deadly, and many cities are now realizing how ill-prepared they are to deal with them.
What is the link between these episodes of extreme heat and climate change?
There has been about two degrees Fahrenheit of warming so far around the world. The number seems small, but it’s enough to “dramatically alter the statistics of extreme heat events,” according to Radley Horton, a climatologist at Columbia University. He says these “dangerous thresholds of really high temperature and high humidity” could potentially occur twice as often as in the past.
What does this mean for forest fires?
About 95% of the West is currently in drought, and there is a clear cycle where the heat dries up the land and vegetation. So when forest fires do occur, they burn hotter and even create their own weather systems in which huge clouds of pyrocumulus can generate lightning, in turn causing even more fires.
What does a warmer Earth have to do with flash floods?
It’s been a crazy few weeks for flash flood disasters, from central China to western Europe to Mumbai to Arizona. These swift waters have killed hundreds of people, but they come as no surprise to climatologists, who have sounded the alarm bells for years.
Even though these floods occurred in their world, their root cause was the same: extreme rains. And it becomes more and more frequent as the Earth warms (hot air + hot water = humidity in the air).
In addition, as the planet warms, some climate models show that the winds in the upper atmosphere are slowing in some places, which would mean that extreme weather conditions would persist there longer.
Scientists are working hard to predict how common these disasters will be in the years to come. After all, lives are at stake.