Many people don’t think there’s much difference between weather and climate change. And that might just have been what prompted Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe to bring a snowball to the Senate floor during the speech in which he questioned the science behind climate change back in 2015…
“Do you know what this is? It’s a snowball,” Inhofe said as he looked at the frosty white lump. “It’s just from outside here, so it’s very, very cold out…”
To the senator, this snowball was proof that global warming was a massive hoax.
As Vizzini from The Princess Bride might say, he “fell victim to one of the classic blunders”. Besides getting involved in a land war in Asia, that is, the senator also confused climate (change) with weather.
What’s the difference between weather and climate?
“Weather” means local atmospheric conditions occurring over short periods, such as the rain, thunderstorms, or snow happening at this precise moment.
“Climate”, on the other hand, refers to massive long-term shifts in meteorological patterns.
For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) measures climate baselines over 30 years for a specific location. Climate change occurs if weather conditions have shifted significantly from the time the first measurement was taken to the present moment.
For example, let’s say you’re heading out into the woods to do a little cross-country skiing. You notice that there seems to be considerably less snow than there usually is at this time of year.
That’s climate change.
However, what you’re likely really thinking about is the blizzard your local meteorologist predicted for this afternoon in your neck of the woods. You wonder, “Will I get stuck in the middle of it? Maybe I’ll get trapped and need to build a snow fort so I don’t freeze to death.”
How does global warming change our climate?
Global warming refers to the long-term rise in temperatures primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels.
This raises the level of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other emissions act like a blanket, trapping some of the heat that might have otherwise radiated into the deepest recesses of interstellar space.
The scientific consensus is that human activity has increased the earth’s global average temperature by approximately 1.8°F (1°C) since before the Industrial Revolution. This number rises by about 0.36°F (0.2°C) every ten years. This means that people are experiencing warmer weather in almost every part of the planet.
How does climate change affect our weather?
One way climate change affects our weather is by making conditions more humid. That happens because warmer air can hold more water. Humidity increases about 3.5% for every degree the temperature rises.
Humidity also increases precipitation levels.
When the climate gets warmer, more rain falls. However, each storm produces more significant amounts of rain because there’s significantly more water vapor than there used to be in the air. In other words, greater water vapor density.
Climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricane season. Hurricane Harvey, a 2017 Category 4 storm, was another extreme weather event. It dumped over 60 inches of rain and resulted in $125 billion in damages.
This made it one of the most devastating storms in history. Professor Kerry Emmanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge calculated that Texas only had a 1% chance of seeing a storm of that magnitude. Now, the chances are approximately 6%.
However, not all meteorological events will get more intense.
For example, most climate models indicate that tropical cyclones (equatorial storms) and extratropical cyclones (a storm in higher latitudes) will in fact become less common as a result of climate change. This decrease in extratropical cyclones makes pollution worse because these storms circulate the air from higher altitudes to lower ones.
This effect helps remove pollution and stop heatwaves. With fewer extratropical cyclones, polluted air lingers in the atmosphere.
Because climate change plays havoc with weather patterns, some parts of the country (like the Northeast) are seeing more flooding. Other regions (such as the Southwest) are experiencing fewer floods. As meteorological patterns shift, areas that are getting drier will see less flooding even after a major storm.
What is an extreme weather event?
An extreme weather event is one that’s significantly different from the usual weather pattern. These events often have a devastating impact on ecosystems, communities, farms, and homes. Here are some examples:
- HEATWAVE: An interval of unusually hot weather and can cause wildfires and droughts if it gets bad.
- DROUGHT: An extended period without rain, usually 15 days in length or more.
- COLDWAVE: A larger-than-average drop in temperature of prolonged duration.
- TORRENTIAL RAIN: An unusually high amount of precipitation. It can cause flash floods, landslides, and other hazards.
While meteorological records reveal a rise in weather-related disasters since 1980, you can’t blame climate change for every extreme weather event. Even if global warming isn’t responsible for a particular storm, rising ocean levels can worsen its impact. In the New York City area, sea levels rise by over an inch every ten years, twice as fast as the global average.
Climatologists predict that sea levels will rise between 11 and 21 inches by 2050 in this region of the planet. In 2012, a nine-foot storm surge birthed by Hurricane Sandy hit the city at high tide.
This made the sea 14 feet higher than average at the tip of Manhattan. Flooding from this hurricane had a devastating effect on beaches and neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.
Other examples of extreme weather events
Weather scientists say the number of extreme weather events has significantly increased in the last five decades and will only worsen.
In December 2010, unusually heavy snow blanketed the UK, with super-frigid arctic air causing temperatures to plummet significantly below normal. This was considered an extreme weather event because it varied wildly from the established meteorological baseline.
The largest, deadliest, and costliest tornado outbreak ever recorded was in 2011, when tornadoes raged across the Southern, Midwestern, and Northeastern US. The most severely affected states were Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.
The National Weather Service confirmed more than 360 tornadoes touched down in 21 states. Four tornadoes were rated EF5, the highest-ranking on the Enhanced Fujita scale. Usually, these tornadoes only happen once a year.
3 not so wacky ways to stop global warming
Climate change is no laughing matter. However, the length some scientists go to pretend it doesn’t exist is. Here are some of the most outlandish solutions ever proposed for the problem:
Create massive plankton blooms
Plankton is a carbon sink, which is anything that absorbs significantly more carbon than it produces. Even though these organisms are tiny, they soak up lots of carbon dioxide and are basically sea-going oxygen factories.
Because of these two things, a scientist came up with the brilliant idea of putting enormous wave-powered pumps in the Pacific Ocean. These pumps would force nutrient-rich water from the cold water at lower depths to mix with warmer surface water. This would give plankton blooms more to eat, causing them to experience explosive growth.
Cover Greenland in white blankets
Greenland’s enormous glaciers are melting at a prodigious rate. With fewer ice sheets around, light isn’t being reflected into outer space. Instead, it’s being absorbed into the ground in the form of heat energy.
This is causing temperatures to rise not only in Greenland but in other areas too. Jason Box, a prominent glaciologist, proposed covering the region in hundreds of miles of white blankets to solve this problem. The scientist believes that this massive ivory shroud would keep things cool.
Drop tree bombs
Trees are the most effective way to capture and store carbon. That’s why a few inventive scientists came up with the decidedly out-of-the-box idea to drop tree bombs from old warplanes.
Each botanical torpedo would be packed with hundreds of seedlings that would scatter as soon as it made landfall. This would create instant forests, filling a formerly barren area with a profusion of greenery. This is probably not as ludicrous as it sounds because geo-engineers have had some limited success regenerating mangrove forests after devastating hurricanes.
Save the planet by banking with Aspiration
Here at Aspiration, we never use customer deposits to finance environmentally destructive practices, such as oil and gas drilling.
We’re 100% committed to saving the heart-achingly beautiful planet we all live on. Our passionate dedication to that mission shines forth in all kinds of ways. From the trees we plant every time you swipe your Aspiration Zero card to the investments we make in renewable energy, we’re in it for the long haul.
When you bank with us, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re doing business with a company making a difference every day.
Get started today!