Heading into August, you have to wonder what’s next in this year of wacky weather. The “spring” storm season began with an onslaught of high winds and tornadoes brewed up in the unseasonable warmth of January. In early March – still winter on the calendar – killer tornadoes broke out across the region. And last Friday, 60-70-mph winds tore through Franklin County, toppling trees and cutting electric power. The Frankfort Plant Board was still working to restore service on Monday.
The common thread through all these events has been persistent heat – along with drought except for downpours that did more harm than good. These conditions have extended over most of the nation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the period from July 2011 through June 2012 was the warmest 12 months ever tallied in the contiguous U.S. in records going back to 1895. All eight of the warmest 12-month periods have occurred since 2000.
Incredibly, some people still deny that global warming even exists. Others concede that something screwy is going on but insist it’s part of God’s plan. Still others tell us just to wipe our brows and accept that we’re having a hot time and it may get even hotter in years to come, but we’ll find ways to “adjust” to the changes.
Those who advise against overreacting to short-term trends do have a point, of sorts. Erratic weather has been with us throughout time. If this brutal summer leads to a cold and snowy winter, skeptics once again will laugh off any notion that human activity is behind the meteorological instability. However, the proposition that the extremes of 2012 represent no more than an unfortunate roll of Mother Nature’s dice is becoming ever more implausible. NOOA says each of the 13 months in the June 2011-July 2012 period in the U.S. ranked among the warmest third historically for the first time on record. The odds against that occurring randomly are 1,594,323 to 1.
Some like it hot. Perhaps there are Kentuckians who’d be happy to see the Bluegrass evolve into Miami North, with no need to worry about snowstorms and bitter cold. But it’ll come at a price, as the recent severe storms so painfully demonstrated. If they weren’t bad enough, consider that the drought in the breadbasket is expected to make our grocery bills shoot up in the months ahead. It doesn’t help that some of the corn diverted into the ethanol industry could have been used for food production instead.
You’d think an environmental event of such potential magnitude over the long term would have the full attention of voters and politicians in America and beyond. Yet, we’re fixated on the economy. How often does either presidential candidate even mention climate change as something we ought to get worried about before it’s too late to counter the results of two centuries years of atmospheric experimentation? The economy certainly needs a helping hand, but how prosperous can we really be if severe storms become the norm, insurance companies struggle to keep up with the cost of repairing the damages and farmers accustomed to surplus suddenly have to cope with scarcity?
Maybe the deniers are right and the string of hot and stormy years will end up no more than a freak event in the record books. Just in case they’re wrong, the world should get serious about deciding what it, if anything, it can do to save itself. Optimism is a fine thing, but harsh reality won’t be denied.