Snowstorms in Iowa? Sure. Snowstorms in tropical Hawaii?!? How can that possibly be?
Maybe you’ve gotten accustomed to climate change making the weather you’re used to worse. But these days, we’re not just talking “worse.” We’re talking weird. Weird, and dangerous.
The US is experiencing weird and dangerous weather.
While rain in Washington State and British Columbia is nothing new, the torrential downpours causing severe flooding and mudslides in the Pacific Northwest are. Meteorologists blame a weird “atmospheric river,” a band of air high in the atmosphere that is more potent because climate change has made the atmosphere warmer. That means the “river” holds more moisture and moves so much more slowly it can get “stuck” over a region. When it does, downpours, floods, and mudslides occur.
“Weird” is rampaging through the redwoods too. While the Rockies always see some fire, the iconic sequoias have been so threatened that park rangers had to wrap their lower trunks in heat-repelling aluminum foil. It’s a tree trunk, for goodness’ sake, not a baked potato.
Meanwhile, poor Hawaii. Honestly, it’s not unusual to see some snow on Hawaii’s highest peaks, which are more than 13,000 feet high. But the last time an actual blizzard hit there was in 2018. Here’s another weird detail: this may be the first year that Hawaii has had so much snow before the Rockies and Great Plains.
While I read the headlines, I look out my kitchen window. It’s just so…balmy. “Abnormally warm weather to dominate Lower 48” at least for the next two weeks, exclaims my local paper, the Washington Post. Abnormal doesn’t begin to describe it. Temperatures hit 70 degrees on one day, then dropped 14 degrees in an hour as winds gusting to 49 mph blew through. Average highs around this time of year usually range closer to 51 degrees. Meanwhile, Baltimore almost made it to 70, while Philadelphia hit 67 and New York 61. We all should be getting out our shovels and snow boots. Instead, we’re still raking fall leaves and planting spring bulbs.
I think back to the year I lived in Denver. It was the 1970s. I’d just gotten out of college and decided to head west to ski while I figured out my life. Turns out, then was a good time to go. It started snowing in October (if not sooner), and I remember skiing on my birthday after a big snowfall—in late May. Granted that was four decades ago. But forty years isn’t even the blink of an eye in the meteorological scheme of things. If I tried the same thing today, I’d be out of luck; it’s been nearly 230 days without any measurable snow accumulation in the Mile High City. Research shows mountain states in the West might be completely snowless in 35 years, yet another abbreviated eye blink.
After Hurricane Ida blew through here this past September after wrecking Louisiana and other parts of the south, my neighbor texted me that the big 100+ year-old mulberry tree that used to shade my backyard had been blown over into hers. At least it didn’t fall on my house, which would have cost me thousands.
Three months later, trees are still on my mind—Christmas trees, that is. From Oregon to Vermont and Virginia, climate change is taking its toll on the firs, spruces, and pines farmers grow and consumers buy during the December holiday season. “It’s gotten to the point where we can’t grow certain species,” Virginia tree farmer Frans Kok told Fast Company. The Caldor wildfire, itself a product of climate change, burned more than 200,000 acres in California this year and destroyed around 40% of the larger Christmas trees on one family-run tree farm in the vicinity.
What can we do?
- Elect officials to local, state, and national office who understand that climate change poses an existential risk to our health and well-being. We need policies that will make it easier to phase out the use of fossil fuels and phase in solar collectors, wind turbines, and other clean energy technologies. But we won’t get those policies if we don’t elect people wise enough to advocate for them.
- Pressure officials we already have elected to pass clean energy laws and regulations and support President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. A new Congress won’t be elected until November 2022. Let’s not wait 11 months to take as many smart energy actions as we can.
- At home, shrink your own carbon footprint. Insulate your attic and crawl spaces, replace old energy-wasting appliances with “smart” efficient ones that meet EPA’s Energy Star standards for performance and efficiency, buy less, and waste less—especially food. Here are seven ways I’ve shrunk my carbon footprint that might help you too.
- And be prepared. David Pogue lays out dozens of smart action steps in How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide for Surviving the Chaos.
Sure, weather changes from day to day and season to season. But the changes we’re seeing these days aren’t the normal ones.
They’re weird and dangerous.