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  • Are these Bomb Cyclones & Weird Temps Climate Change? glacier-melting Full view

    Are these Bomb Cyclones & Weird Temps Climate Change?

    Remember when winter was so warm that we (almost) celebrated climate change?

    With a recent cold snap and bomb cyclone, it feels like meteorologists are just inventing new weather terms now. (Or at least 5 people stated around the office fruit water cooler.)

    But is what we’re experiencing climate change? Can we officially declare victory?

    Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. We chatting with Rachel Valletta, Ph.D., Environmental Scientist of the Franklin Institute to get the 411.

    What the current Weather Means for Climate Change

    We can’t say that the bomb cyclone proves that climate change is real. Or cold snaps – or one hurricane – or any of the recent weather events.

    Valletta explains that climate scientists are quick to point out that weather patterns do NOT equal climate change. (Reference: our current president and a stream of responses asking where global warming is during cold temperatures.) Weather is what’s happening right now, that day-to-day rain or sunshine. Climate change references what’s happening over an extended period – aka statistical averages. Valletta uses the example of Michael Mann, that “just because you’re in a grumpy mood, doesn’t mean you’re a grumpy person.” We can’t point to one specific day and be like “THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE.” (Even though when we’re doing that every day, it feels a bit weird.)

    Climate change is still happening.

    “Even though we’ve had crazy low temperatures, 2017 will still go down as one of the top 3 hottest years on record for the globe,” as Valletta points out. As we recently experienced frigid temps in the Northeast, Phoenix was experiencing record high temps. (The world is weird, right?)

    We’re still going to see weather abberations, highs, and lows in temperatures.” 

    Warming oceans send more moisture and energy into the atmosphere, which means stronger storms.

    So yes, climate change is real. That bomb cyclone, those super-powerful hurricanes and the crazy amount of wildfires last year aren’t all a coincidence. “We are starting to fingerprint anthropogenic climate change effects in extreme weather events,” according to Valletta.

    While you can’t blame a hurricane on climate change, you can attribute the strength to climate change. For example: regardless of climate change, Hurricane Harvey would have happened. “But we can say part of the reason Hurricane Harvey was so intense us due in part to warming sea surface temperatures, which make hurricanes stronger,” states Valletta.

    What can we expect from climate change here in Philly?

    Due to climate change, Philadelphia is expected to be hotter and wetter. And yes, we will likely see more bomb cyclones in the future Northeast.

    Valletta is also the CUSP Director, which helps talk about hyperlocal climate change. We’ll see the effects pretty soon. “By the 2020s, it’s going to be hotter and warmer with 1-2 additional weeks per year of daily temperatures over 90* F (in Philly).”  

    By the mid-century or 2050s, we’ll see a MONTH more of days over 90* F.  We’ll be seeing an increasing number of duration and number of heat waves. And that wetter Philadelphia isn’t just a few more waterings for our plants. “We’re not just talking more rainstorms, but an increased probability of downpours,” as Valletta shares.

    Sounds like time to stock up on umbrellas and shorts!

    If this is such a big deal, why aren’t we talking about climate change more?

    It may feel like we’re not hearing people declare climate change enough. A recent report stated that media outlets underreported climate change in 2017, despite the number of extreme weather events, with only 9% of pieces that discussed climate change referencing solutions or mitigation.

    You’d think that scientists would be more vocal, right? On the one hand, they have to be cautious to declare their predictions as fact. Scientists are working with new and quickly changing models since they measure these events in real-time. As Valletta explains, “It takes decades of rigorous observation to capture variability within the climate system. It will take time for the various impacts of anthropogenic climate change to be born out in those records.”

    Online commenting has added to the mix. Climate scientists have been a target of negative press and may be a little gun-shy. But other scientists are calling on their colleagues to be more vocal and involved with policies.

    Regardless, we need to redirect the conversation to become more action-oriented.

    “Climate change will be costly, financially and in terms of people who will be injured. We know we need to respond to intense, more frequent storms, and not be hung up whether climate change may or may not be a part of it.”


    Just remember: all hope isn’t lost yet. “We can still mitigate the worst effects of climate change with if we act on energy transitions and personal lifestyle changes.”  


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    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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