The Climate Crisis reality mandates new kinds of thinking, and much of America is getting a lesson in it now. The weather is great. Really, really great. And that's really, really weird. And maybe really really bad.
After a mild to nonexistent winter in much of the country, March has been ridiculously warm. Up to 40 degrees F warmer. By standard definition, it's an extreme weather event. It just happens to be temporarily a nice one.
NPR quotes climatologist Heidi Cullen to that effect: When you think of extreme weather, you often think of dramatic events like tornadoes, droughts or hurricanes. It's hard to view a warm, spring day as an extreme weather event, and Cullen says that's one of the challenges of talking about climate.
Cullen notes all the ways that recent climate extremes track with predictions based on Climate Crisis science. "The science tells us that if we don't do anything about this problem, that by the middle and the end of the century, we're looking at really a radically different climate," she says.
It's not all due to the Climate Crisis--La Nina is having a particular heating effect on North America. But Climate Crisis models predict that unusual weather trends become more extreme and last longer because of global heating. NOAA climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi compared the increase in weather extremes to baseball players on steroids: You can't say an individual homer is because of steroids, but they are hit more often and the long-held records for home runs fall.
How hot is it? Try these stats on for size:
The first quarter of 2012 broke the January-March record by 1.4 degrees. Usually records are broken by just one- or two-tenths of a degree. U.S. temperature records date to 1895.
The atypical heat goes back even further. The U.S. winter of 2010-2011 was slightly cooler than normal and one of the snowiest in recent years, but after that things started heating up. The summer of 2011 was the second warmest summer on record.
The winter that just ended, which in some places was called the year without winter, was the fourth warmest on record. Since last April, it's been the hottest 12-month stretch on record, Crouch said.
But the month where the warmth turned especially weird was March.
Normally, March averages 42.5 degrees across the country. This year, the average was 51.1, which is closer to the average for April. Only one other time — in January 2006 — was the country as a whole that much hotter than normal for an entire month.
In March, at least 7,775 weather stations across the nation broke daily high temperature records and another 7,517 broke records for night-time heat. Combined, that's more high temperature records broken in one month than ever before, Crouch said.
"When you look at what's happened in March this year, it's beyond unbelievable," said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver.
What has people feeling weird about this right now is the near term prospects. Already there's a large increase in insects in some places, and farmers worry that their rapidly growing crops are more vulnerable to a seasonable frost. Allergies are more active, and that's a sign of other health problems that might arise.
And then there's summer...
Meanwhile 350.org are busy organizing an international Climate Impact Day for May 5 (5/5) to "connect the dots" between extreme weather and the Climate Crisis. More on that later.