The New Normal

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As the flood waters around my current hometown begin to recede, I find myself reflecting on what the media likes to call “extreme weather.”

Growing up in the Chicago area in the 70s and 80s, we could generally count on the weather to follow some basic guidelines – hot and humid as heck in the summer, frigid in the winter, and a couple days each year to celebrate spring and fall.

When I moved to San Diego, I knew, as our weather dude would say, we would have “early morning fog that will burn off by noon” pretty much every day, except during June gloom, when it took a little longer to burn off.   Then I moved to D.C. and it was around this time that I started to recognize a change in the way people began talking about the weather…

Talking about the weather is a thing people have done for years.  It’s an ice-breaker (yay puns);   it fills that awkward silence when you and “that guy” join the conference call early and everybody else is late.

Weather chatter traditionally started with someone commenting on the “unseasonable” [cold/heat/rain/snow/what-have-you] – for that time of year.  But, I believe we are currently in the midst of a major shift that will seriously affect our small talk (among other, possibly more vital things!).

Kids these days may not grow up counting on April showers and May flowers.   Nobody talks about how “unseasonable” the weather is, because they’re too busy talking about floods, draughts, hurricanes, tornados, insane snow storms and heat waves.  It seems our weather talk goes from one “extreme” event to another – effectively making “extreme” the new normal.

And now for some science:

Weather nerds (like my husband) will enjoy playing around with NOAA’s Climate at a Glance Time Series Graphs. Here’s one plotting “anomalies” in land and sea temperatures from 1975 to 2015:

Source: NOAA

Notice the upward trend in anomalies.  They gauge anomalies based on “average” temperatures.  But, how many anomalies does it take before there is no longer an average temperature from which to measure it?  I don’t envy the scientists trying to create weather models these days.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told reporters last week, “We are at a 1,000-year level of rain.”  CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward explained that since we don’t have 1,000 years of precipitation records, a “thousand-year-rainfall” means South Carolina has a 1-in-1000 chance of that much rain occurring in a given year.  So now that it has hit, by this measure, we should not see that much rain in South Carolina for another 1,000 years.  Anyone willing to bet those odds?

Here are a couple of charts, also from NOAA, showing global extremes, and then national extremes, for just the month of August, 2015.  You can visit the site to check out national stats and more at: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201508.

Source: NOAA
Source: NOAA
Source: NOAA
Source: NOAA

Since I think we’re finally past having to convince people that much of this is caused – in part/mostly/entirely – (depending on which news you watch) – by human carbon emissions, I feel I can share without offending, a few tips on reducing your carbon emissions.  Every little bit helps:

  • The EPA’s “What you can do” lists: http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/
  • A few tips from me — yes, I’m an expert and I do all these things – (disclaimer, not all content in this sentence is true):
    • Plant native plants in your yard, and near your air conditioning unit – more info here: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/plants-grow-front-ac-unit-28572.html
    • Buy food with less packaging (Trader Joe’s I’m talking to you – my cucumber does not need to be singularly wrapped)
    • Buy organic and local (the nearer your food is to you, the less gas it takes to get in your mouth – again, Trader Joe’s, are you listening?
    • RECYLCE damnit
    • Drive less and choose vehicles that you don’t have to back up, inch forward, back up, inch forward 12 times to park – I’m talking to you soccer mom with the Escalade at the game last week when we were already late.   Oh, and VW: shame shame shame.

And now, since this song has been in my head the entire time I’ve been writing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6ljSWWhs9E.   Hope it sticks in your head all day.

2 Responses

  1. Bruce Holsten

    Right on the mark, once again, Dana. I always enjoy your take on things! Hope you’re doing well.

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