Monday, July 9, 2012

Hot hot hot




Hot.

Sweltering.

Sweaty.

Those are just a few of the adjectives I could employ to describe the past week.  Over four straight days here in Chicago the temperature hit 100 degrees.  Once you factor in the humidity for the heat index, that value gets closer to 105 or so.  Cook County officials announced yesterday that 18 deaths could be attributed to this heat.

I don’t mean to come off as a martyr.  The heat did not stop me from activities such as attending the Iron Maiden/Alice Cooper concert last Thursday night and banging my head like a fool until my body absolutely gushed with sweat.  Plus, a vast swath of the United States has been subjected to this excessive heat.  In Washington D.C. where the temperature likewise went into the 100s, an airliner was stuck at Reagan National Airport.  The tarmac had actually softened from the heat, forming a groove from which one of the plane’s wheels was eventually pulled…but not without great difficulty.  Yeah.  That’s hot.

Cities tend to be hit especially hard during times like these due to an effect known as “urban heat island.”  Remember that term.  You’ll be hearing it quite a bit in the years to come.  Heat and air pollution such as exhaust from vehicles and strain on electrical plants make for a bad combination.  Higher air temperature means an increase in ozone.  Air quality begins to go downhill fast.  Here is an urban heat island study for Chicago.  I once saw a report on Planet Ark that asserted that heat-related deaths in New York City will nearly double by 2050.

Right.  Nobody saw this coming.  Because global warming is just crazy talk.

There have been several global heat waves in the past ten years.  Japan suffered one in 2007 and Europe faced a heat in 2003 and 2006 that resulted in many deaths.  These deaths were mainly elderly or people who did not have or could not afford air conditioning.  Or both.  The same circumstances appear to account for deaths here in the Chicago heat as well.  Detractors see no pattern here.  Like commentator George Will, they snidely dismiss such heat waves as “summer.”

True, there have been heat waves in the past.  But as Kevin Trenberth, climate-analysis branch chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research says:  “These (heat) events always occur.  What global warming does is push it up another notch.”  Climate researchers have warned for a quite a while now that global warming would bring, among other things as stated in this article in The Huffington Post: “increased heat waves, more droughts, more sudden downpours, more widespread wildfires and worsening storms. In the United States, those extremes are happening here and now.”

Indeed they are.  Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. set 40,000 hot temperature records.  So we’ve got the heat.  There are any number of cases in the past year of unusually strong storms, such as the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri or tornadoes popping up in odd locations such as Massachusetts.  Horrible wildfires have left stretches of Colorado as nothing more than scorched earth.  Finally, on a far less serious note, this…ladies and gentlemen…is my lawn:



So there's drought.

Why listen to me?  Let’s see what the smart guys who get paid to pore over this data say:
"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters."
"In the future you would expect larger, longer more intense heat waves and we've seen that in the last few summers," NOAA Climate Monitoring chief Derek Arndt said.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  That old conservative refrain of “climate is not weather.”  True.  Yet you will see indications of climate change within weather.  As a fiction writer, global warming causes me to envision all sorts of future settings.  One that immediately comes to mind is that of the northern US suddenly becoming more crowded as people flee the excessive heat.  Those that remain in the Midwest and so forth will be the lower income brackets, attempting to survive in a parched landscape without air conditioning.

Enough doom and gloom!  I’m tired of being perpetually accused of cynicism.  So what are the positives of these heat waves?  Well for one thing, attractive women wear fewer clothes during these times.  Saw that for myself at the Maiden show.  Also, nothing beats a large-sized cherry slushie from Sonic.


ADDITION: "Is Global Warming Driving Our Weather Our Weather Wild?" is the cover story for New Scientist.  You'll need to sign up (free) to read it.


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