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On May 31, 2012 03:01AM ET in Green 101
Most people take the weather for granted and don’t give it a second thought until it turns ugly. Usually temperatures fall within the expected range – but there is a trend towards more frequent extreme weather due to continued global warming. The study of meteorology reveals what constitutes extreme weather.
Some Telltale Heat-Related Events
Fortunately extreme weather occurs no more than 5 percent of the time, and scientists define it based on what is considered normal for a particular climate. However, over a long period of time the concept of “normal” may be changing.
Heat waves are one of the results of global warming but there is no uniform definition of a heat wave because average temperatures vary by geographic location. “Hot” is a relative term and when meteorologists record the atmospheric temperatures they take into account the temperature of the air rather than the ground. Some of the highest temperatures recorded were:
- 136 degrees F in Libya, Africa on Sept. 13, 1922
- 134 degrees F in Death Valley, CA on July 10, 1913
- 129 degrees F in Tirat Tsvi, Israel on June 22, 1942
- 122 degrees F in Seville, Spain on Aug. 4, 1881
- 120 degrees F in Rivadavia, Argentina on Dec. 11, 1905
- 108 degrees F in Tuguegarao in the Philippines on April 29, 1912
Even traditionally cold climates are experiencing their own version of extreme weather due to global warming. On Jan. 5, 1974, the Vanda Station on the Antarctica’s Scott Coast recorded a temperature of 59 degrees.
Low Temperatures Indicating Major Problems
In other parts of the world, cold is getting colder. Extreme weather has caused temperatures to plunge far below what is considered normal for the geography. The lowest subzero temperatures recorded included:
- 129 degrees below in Vostok in the Antarctica on July 21, 1983
- 90 degrees below in Verkhoyansk, Russia on Feb. 7, 1892, and in Oimekon, Russia on Feb. 6, 1933
- 87 degrees below in Northice, Greenland on Jan. 9, 1954
- 81.4 degrees below in Canada’s Snag, Yukon on Feb. 3, 1947
In December 2010 the UK experienced its coldest winter in 100 years when arctic air blew in, bringing frozen precipitation. The snowdrifts were 50 centimeters deep in some places. Temperatures hovered between 10 and 0 degrees Celsius.
Not even Hawaii, an area traditionally known for its warm, balmy weather, escaped the effects. On May 17, 1979, the Mauna Kea Observatory recorded a temperature of 12 degrees.
Other Extreme Weather Events
Tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods and extended droughts are other examples of devastating weather. From 2004 to 2006, drought conditions existed in the UK due to insufficient rainfall during that three-year period. In January 2005 severe storms hit the country and winds stronger than 100 mph were recorded. In August 2004 flash floods swept over Boscastle in Cornwall, and three times the average amount of rainfall for the month fell in a 24-hour period.
Warmer temperatures kick up more energy and rise the atmosphere’s water level, generating more storms. Those storms made last year a particularly tough time for many. According to a 2011 analysis released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by springtime more than eight natural disasters had hit various areas across the U.S. Each one had caused more than $1 billion in damages.
Global warming triggering these dramatic weather events is the result of many years of toxic fumes and emissions from civilization, which has damaged the earth’s protective ozone layer. The violent weather once only depicted in models is becoming a reality worldwide. Historically mankind has been able to adjust to the climate, but if global warming continues unchecked the results could be catastrophic.
Billie Seddon is a conservation writer who works with NRDC and other organizations to protect our health and environment. She strongly urges everyone to educate themselves and learn how we can all help protect the environment.