Even though we haven’t had a sensational weather event in a while to make the climate question a topic of chatter, I thought it would be important to survey recent disasters using photographs from around the web. I think assembling this information in one place where connections can easily be made offers a powerful statement about the world in which we live. It also raises a number of serious questions. Res ipsa loquitur, as the old judges used to say.
Anyone who’s over 40 can tell you that something feels different about the equilibrium of the climate today compared to when they were much younger. Something doesn’t feel right. Too many super storms; too many records broken in too short a time period. Rain, when it comes, is often erratic.
Many of us instinctively sense that things have changed, and that the change came about too quickly to feel normal. I personally find myself wondering from time to time what happened to the tranquility that mostly seemed to govern my world a long time ago. Maybe this was just youthful bliss. But I grew up in Brooklyn during the 70’s and 80’s when muggings and heroine addiction were rampant. When mass murderers, like Berkowitz, roamed the earth. Despite this, I can’t get over how, in the middle of my life, it feels like the balance of the world somehow somewhere along the way got fundamentally out of whack.
We don’t have to be scientists to know this. We know it because we feel it in the depths of our being just like we do when we sense someone staring at us. Or when our comfort or security zone is suddenly challenged. A truth undeniable and inescapable grips us, and we suddenly know it in the way we need to know when our survival depends on it. So when pictures of biblical-sized proportions make headlines with a disconcerting regularity, it’s understandable that at least some of us begin to question the natural order of things–the natural order, that is, which we thought use to exist.
I don’t know about you but I don’t need a politician or lobbyist or some caffeinated blogger to tell me that seeing New York City under water is normal. Or New Orleans. Or Philadelphia. Or Atlanta. Just to mention some recent examples.
Nor does it seem normal to read about 70 degree days in Minneapolis in January or that over half the entire U.S. is simultaneously experiencing drought conditions. Or one town after another getting erased from the map by killer tornadoes. Or that almost 10 million acres burned to a crisp last year (in one year)–this hair raising fact on top of a decade of record wildfires that makes the prior 40 years look boring.
But why continue describing in words what can so easily be shown in pictures? So, like I said, I decided to compile some photo galleries of recent natural disasters, the frequency and intensity of which strike me as utterly abnormal–at least with respect to the comparatively calm world in which this 41-year old was born into in what seems like a long, long time ago in a place far, far away.
Note that the gallery below isn’t comprehensive. It’s been assembled to help illustrate the unusual weather that we’ve experienced in recent years. I’ll do my best to update the gallery as events unfold and time permits. Visitors are welcome to email any good photos they feel belong here to: modern (at) modernfolktales (dot) com.
The Global Drought: Vanishing Water
Extreme water shortages resulting from prolonged, multi-year droughts are squeezing every region of the globe in an invisible grip. Here you’ll see images that bear the marks of its force. As UCL’s Global Drought Monitor vividly shows, nobody is exempt, neither the mighty or the weak. Extreme ongoing droughts are currently ravaging North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Last year in July, 2012, as parts of the mighty Mississippi evaporated to the point of becoming unnavigable, the National Climatic Data Center reported that, with over 55% of the country affected, the U.S. was undergoing the most widespread drought since the 1950’s. Last June ranked as the 3rd driest month is at least 118 years. Over half the nation is still experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.
As summer, 2013, looms the mayor of Odessa urged residents on April 14th to pray for rain. It’s ironic, to say the least, that this backdrop, frackers across Texas and the U.S. are zealously blasting billions of gallons of fresh water down into the earth in a frenzied pursuit of oil and natural gas. Further compounding this tragic waste of good water is the fact that much of it is, as a consequence of fracking, being stored deep below the surface in a highly toxic form. This water is being permanently removed from the hydrosphere. Consequently, it will never evaporate again and return to us in the form of rain.
A World in Flames: Wildfires Everywhere
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires scorched over 9 million acres across the U.S. in 2012, the most burned of any year on record since 1960 when accurate records began. The only exceptions to this would be 2006 and 2007 when even more acreage burned. Moreover, 8 of the top 10 years during the 52-year period occurred between 2000-2012.
In 2006, the Journal Science reported that large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. It concluded that higher temperatures and earlier snow melts played major roles in the increase.
The escalating size and intensity of wildfires is even more amazing when one considers that this development has occurred despite advances in wildfire management and prevention techniques. The average number of fires from 1999-2012 was just under 1.1 million per year while the average between 1960-2012 was almost 5.7 million. But the total number of acres that burned between 1999-2012 was an astonishing 96.4 million, making up a whopping 41% of the total for the entire period! A study published in June, 2012, in the peer-reviewed journal Ecosphere reported that climate change is widely expected to disrupt future wildfire patterns around the world, with some regions, such as the western U.S., expected to see more and more frequent fires over the next 30 years.
Incredible, Insatiable Floods
Most of us have heard about melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures and how this increases the volume of water, which, in turn, causes sea levels to rise. We need only to look at Hurricane Sandy to realize how dangerous the combination of rising sea levels and major storms (particularly exceptionally low pressure storms) can be—even in places, like major Northeastern metropolises, that haven’t historically been threatened by flooding.
Although storm surge can submerge even the largest cities, erratic and unusual rainfall patterns can also cause severe flooding, particularly in rivershed areas. Variations in global precipitation is highly complex but researchers are starting to document the changes that many millions of people around the world have been experiencing for years. Princeton University researchers published a report in the Journal of Climate in November, 2011, that found that unusual fluctuations in rainfall are affecting more than a third of the planet. In addition to flooding events, erratic precipitation and sunlight impairs photosynthesis, which raises a host of frightening questions, not least of which has to do with the foundation of the food chain.
The Wonderful World of Killer Tornadoes
At 753 tornadoes, April 2011 was the most active tornado month on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It smashed the previous record of 267 in April 1974. Moreover, the April 25th-28th, 2011, outbreak was the most prolific in history, producing 358 tornadoes, 209 of which occurred in a single 24-hour period on April 27th. The outbreak killed 325 people. That month saw 770 tornadoes, far surpassing the record of 542 set in May, 2003. To put this in perspective: the average number of tornadoes reported annually in the U.S. is about 800.
With damage totaling $2.3 billion, the Joplin tornado of May, 2011, is the costliest on record. Whatever you choose to believe about global warming, I think many people in tornado-prone areas find it hard to sleep well at night on the conviction that nothing has really changed all that much about the frequency and intensity of tornadoes. Particularly if their aware that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in its most recent assessment that the world has been experiencing more violent storms since 1970, a view that isn’t expected to change. Of course, it might just be possible that Mother Nature is conspiring against us and trying to fool us all. Just because she’s too damn liberal and doesn’t happen to like our politics that much.