FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 19, 2020
Scientists see connection between climate change and Western fires, coastal storms
Catch up on Western fires. What's the status in California and elsewhere?
Share a quote or fact from other earth science or climate news.
Look for coverage of an emergency response in your state or region. What happened?
Extreme natural events have been front-page news often in the past two months. Wildfires burned millions of acres and brought deaths, property losses and evacuations of thousands in California, Oregon and Washington state. After six major fires blazed through almost 2 million acres of California in September, destroying nearly 1,000 homes, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked for a federal declaration of emergency to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and other aid in devastated areas. The White House at first said no last week, but President Trump then OK'd the disaster relief after a call from the governor and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Separately, hurricanes and tropical storms pounded Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and Texas in August and September. These catastrophes aren't new, but their frequency and intensity may be linked to our warming planet. Many scientists and climate experts warn that we're likely to continue seeing stronger, more dangerous storms and wildfires. "These are conditions that are exacerbated by the changing climate that we are suffering," says Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington. "We should fight the cause of these fires." A Columbia University expert in New York, director Jeff Schlegelmilch of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, agrees: "These are all things we should expect to see more and more of as climate change takes a deeper hold on our climate and on the extremes that it creates in our weather."
On the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, storms with powerful wind and rain are expected to be stronger and last longer. "Climate change reality has made many hurricanes wetter, slower-moving and more dangerous," The New York Times reports. This year's six-month hurricane season, running through November, is among the most active on record. "We are not seeing an increase in the total number of tropical storms, but what we are seeing is an increase in the strongest ones -- Category 3, 4 and 5," says senior scientist Jennifer Francis at the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod, Mass. "We're also seeing a tendency for storms to intensify more rapidly . . . and this is one of the clear signals associated with climate change."
Global temperatures have warmed an average of 2 degrees over the past century, according to a U.S. government agency. From 1900-80, a new temperature record was typically set every 13.5 years. Since 1981, a new record has been set every three years. All five of California's largest fires in history have raged in the past three years. Other countries this year also have experienced their worst wildfires in decades, if not all of recorded history. Hotter, drier seasons -- driven by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas -- have made the world more prone to erupt in flames, specialists say.
Donald Trump and others questions that conclusion. The president discounts the impact of climate change and withdrew the United States from a major international climate agreement in 2017. “Man-made global warming is not a scientific certainty," says national radio host Rush Limbaugh, one of his prominent media supporters. "It cannot be proven. . . . Environmentalist wackos want man to be responsible for it because they want to control your behavior. They want to convince you that your lifestyle choices are the reason why all these fires are firing up out on the Left Coast." Gov. Newsom of California rejects that view: "I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers. You may not believe it intellectually, but your own eyes tell a different story -- particularly here."
California governor says: "Just got off the phone with President Trump, who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response." -- Gavin Newsom
Fox News host says: "There is not a single scientist on Earth who knows whether or by how much these fires may have [worsened] by warmer temperatures caused by climate change. All we have is conjecture from a handful of scientists and many politicians." – Tucker Carlson, Sept. 11
Joe Biden says: "The science is clear, and deadly signs like these are unmistakable. Climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life." – Democratic presidential candidate
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