Extreme weather suddenly seems to be happening everywhere at once.
The heat index in parts of Arizona, Texas and Florida will surpass 110 degrees Fahrenheit today. Much of the Midwest is in a severe drought. Areas in New York and Vermont just saw as much rain in a day as is typical for all of July, and subsequent flash floods washed out homes, cars and bridges. Wildfire smoke recently blanketed the Midwest and Northeast — at times giving U.S. cities the worst air quality in the world.
These events show one danger of global warming: Simultaneous climate disasters can play off one another, further worsening extreme weather and straining limited resources. Consider some examples:
For years, the U.S. and Australia shared firefighting resources because their fire seasons do not typically overlap. In 2019 and 2020, they were instead forced to compete for personnel and equipment as California dealt with a wildfire season that extended into its winter, while much of Australia burned during its so-called Black Summer.
In the Western U.S., both more heat and unusually dry conditions have caused the megadrought of recent years. The heat and dryness have also acted as kindling for more frequent and more severe fires. In both cases, the two conditions, exacerbated by climate change, compounded each other to cause more disasters.
Last year, a heat wave in Pakistan pushed temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Then floods submerged more than a third of the nation. The back-to-back events strained resources in an already poor country.
States often support each other during natural disasters by sending equipment or opening residents’ homes to people who have been displaced. But New York can’t as easily help neighboring Vermont while both states are battling floods. (Vermont has received help from North Carolina, Michigan and Connecticut, among others.)
We should expect more such problems going forward, largely propelled by climate change.
Worse to come
This year really has been unusual for the climate. The chart below shows global surface air temperatures since 1979. The daily global temperature set a record last week, and it could again in the coming weeks.
Climate change is one culprit. Some of the current problems also stem from the periodic weather pattern known as El Niño, which causes temperatures to rise. It will likely subside next year, bringing somewhat cooler conditions, before returning again several years later. When it does, it could bring even worse disasters than this year’s El Niño because climate change will have continued to warm the planet all the while.
“Extremes are already worse because of man-made climate change,” said Kim Cobb, the director of the Institute at Brown University for Environment and Society. “And they’re going to get worse with each additional increment of warming.”
Humans can’t prevent El Niño, but they can do something about climate change. Anything that reduces greenhouse gases can help. While much of the world has already taken steps to cut human emissions, experts continue to say that progress has been too slow to stop or reverse global warming.
More weather news
THE LATEST NEWS
Professional surfer: Mikala Jones, known for the videos he took inside the giant waves he rode, died when the fin from his board cut an artery. He was 44.
ESPYs: Damar Hamlin broke down onstage as he presented an award to the Buffalo Bills training staff for saving his life on the field. Watch the video from ESPN.
More spotlight: The Jets will be the latest subject of “Hard Knocks,” HBO announced yesterday.
A mayor’s pitch: Oakland’s mayor said in an exclusive interview that she had presented the M.L.B. commissioner with a plan to keep the A’s in Oakland.
ARTS AND IDEAS
TV’s best: The final season of “Succession” scored 27 Emmy nominations yesterday, the most of any series, including acting nods for nine of its cast members. And HBO pulled off a rare feat, with four of its shows — “Succession,” “The White Lotus,” “The Last of Us” and “House of the Dragon” — nominated for best drama. The most closely watched comedy award will probably be the competition for best actor, which includes Jason Sudeikis for “Ted Lasso” and Jeremy Allen White for “The Bear.” (See all the nominees.)