Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reaping the Whirlwind

Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma
Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma
In this season of year end retrospectives on 2013 one theme is echoed across the news media. It was a year of Extreme Weather, in the United States and around the world. The U.S. experienced record-breaking snowfall, floods, wildfires, tornados, heat, and cold.  The disruption of normal weather patterns made headlines across the globe.
  • In February, Winter Storm Nemo (they get names now) dumped an all-time record 36" of snow on Connecticut and in April the snow in Duluth, Minnesota was 50.8" deep.  Arkansas saw snow in May for the first time ever.   Major storms disrupted travel before both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Abroad, the UK was crippled by the worst snow in 30 years and Cairo, Egypt experienced its first snowfall in 100 years.
  • Winter also brought record cold across the U.S. and summer record heat waves.  On June 30 it was 129.2 degrees in Death Valley!  
  • Rainfall broke records in the Mid-Atlantic region in June and July and caused terrible floods in Colorado with loss of life.  Meanwhile drought in the west made for one of the worst wildfire seasons ever, capped by the tragic death of 19 firefighters in Arizona.
  • Tornados raged across the mid-west, including one of the worst ever which hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 with winds up to 210 m.p.h.
  • Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded worldwide, hit the Philippines in November killing thousands.
The cumulative effect of all these weather disasters was to focus the news media on the science of climate change and global warming, a topic many had shied away from as it became a politically controversial topic.  But the consensus among scientists is clear and as the evidence has accumulated, thicker than the record snowfalls, we are seeing more scientifically accurate reporting in the media.  

Among the stories I noted this year was the interesting case of the message in a bottle.  In 1959 a scientist stuck a bottle under a pile of rocks on a Canadian Arctic glacier. Inside he left a note recording the distance between the rocks and the edge of the glacier.  This year scientists found the bottle and new measurements show the glacier has retreated 233 feet in the intervening years. 

Another story caught my eye because it seemed so preposterous - vineyards in England!  The idea would have seemed like science fiction in my youth, but now the winemaking industry is thriving in southern England because the climate is so much warmer.

The topic of climate change can be a challenge to research because there is still a lot of misinformation out there, often funded by industries with their own agenda. These websites are reliable sources of information:
  • from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A subject search of the MCPL library catalog brings up an extensive list of resources including these: 
  • The aptly named Global Weirdness by the non-profit journalism and research organization Climate Central, Inc is also an excellent summation of the current science and what can and can't be done about it. 
Still not worried? Take a look at this time-lapse video of unusual melting at the North Pole in 2013. Or check out the new genre of disaster novels spawned by climate change, like 2013's Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich.  The cover, showing a submerged New York, was designed seven months before Hurricane Sandy actually did result in flooding part of the city. 

Rita T.

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