As we close out the summer (meteorological Autumn begins September 1, I’m sorry to say) it’s impossible to end without discussing the weather–at least for a trained amateur meteorologist like me.
I fail to remember a summer where so many weather or weather related storied have dominated. And we have yet to reach the peak hurricane season, which will come in the next two weeks.
This summer the stories haven’t been about rain–most people wish that they had been! The only rain related stories have included flash flooding from thunderstorms–the sort of rain that is never helpful, even in drought ravaged communities.
This summer, as I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone living in the United States, the stories have been about drought. Thankfully the heat hasn’t been as severe as it was last summer (although parts of the country, including those in drought, still had plenty of very hot days–but they did not have a record-breaking number of 100+ days as they did last year, or the stories would be a lot worse.)
Yet despite the fact that there weren’t as many 100 degree days, many parts of the country, including my own Northeastern U.S. still set records for the all-time warmest ever. July was our warmest July on record, for example and the winter was one of the warmest as well. Part of that has to do not so much with the number of high temperatures but with the fact that the low temperatures are not falling as low as they have historically fallen, thus bringing the mean average temperature for the month up.
But of course, the same parts of the country that were in drought last year had record-breaking heat then as well. So that only makes whatever they are going through now that much worse. And what they are going through sounds almost like a plague of biblical proportions–all that’s missing is the locusts–but from what I understand there are grasshoppers, so they may qualify.
First, of course, there is still the drought. That means that farming has been a spectacular failure but thankfully for the farmers, crop insurance will cover many of their losses.
Ranchers and dairy farmers have no such insurance to fall back on for the most part. They will have to bear their losses by culling their herds, which in the long-term is bad news for us all. We might benefit briefly by having some quality beef this autumn. Long term there is going to be a loss because these herds will disappear, perhaps never to re-appear again.
Further, the ranchers and dairy farmers are a “dying” breed as well, at least here in the northeast, and from what I understand in many other parts of the country as well. While some younger folks may be willing to take on farming, very few are going into ranching.
Then there is the whole issue of “extreme” weather–flooding rains, heavy snows and ice, extreme heat, which is striking more place than ever this year.
And finally the wildfires–this has been the worst year ever for wildfires.
So while a year of weather does not in any way predict what may be a long-term trend, (the “weather does not equal climate” of my title) the fear in many places is that these extremes are in fact the “new normal” and are in fact the result of climate change.
Those scientific discussions can be found elsewhere. To my mind, climate change aside, there’s no doubt that we are killing the planet. How much it is affecting our weather I will let the scientists debate.