Unprecedented drought, wildfires, and extreme heat in 2012 are seen offering a hint of the kinds of summers that will be ‘commonplace’ under business-as-usual energy practices.
Independent videographer Peter Sinclair in this Yale Forum “2013 Climate Outlook” video pairs the expert insights of Michigan and Minnesota meteorologists Jeff Masters and Paul Douglas with the expert climatology perspectives of scientists Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University, Michael Mann of Penn State University, and Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University.
Why the large differences between higher global temperatures and what happens in particular regions? Why is it that 2012 set the high-temperature record for the contiguous United States, but 2011 “smashed all of the records” in parts of Texas? How do the 50 days of Lubbock, Texas, 100-degree-plus days in 2011 compare with historic weather records in that west Texas town? What are among the biggest risks from more 2012-like summer weather records? (Hint: Masters points to the $50 billion price tag associated with the 2012 drought and cautions that the price will go up if the continuing drought — yes, it’s continuing throughout much of the country — continues.)
Penn State’s Mann says he fears the 2012 record heat offers us “a taste of the sorts of summers that will be commonplace just decades from now” if business-as-usual energy use and combustion continues. He points out that even the cooling influences of a La Niña such as that in 2012 can be more than offset by growing greenhouse gas concentrations.
Masters and Douglas explain the 2012 decline in tornadoes across the U.S., what Douglas calls “the only silver lining” from the year’s record heat. Douglas points to the spread of the drought across the U.S. and the high number of 100-plus degree days. “There wasn’t enough moisture, and there wasn’t enough wind shear” across the U.S., Douglas explains, so the traditional “Tornado Alley” was shoved northward, penalizing Saskatchewan.
Asked by Sinclair whether the Arctic 2012 summer was an oddity, an exception, Rutgers Professor Jennifer Francis says that just isn’t the case. “Arctic sea ice is so thin now that it’s much more easily moved by the wind. It’s much more easily melted by an injection of warm air from the south, like storms tend to do,” she says. Pointing to that thinning sea ice, Francis says the weather stresses imposed during 2012 would not have had nearly the devastating impact on the Arctic sea ice just three decades ago. And Masters says his “conservative” judgment is that Arctic will be ice-free in summers just a decade from now.