Global warming, but a big freeze in Texas? What’s up? – The Mountaineer
This past February an ice storm knocked out over two thousand electric customers in Haywood County. Things got back to normal pretty quickly, thanks to skilled and dedicated repair crews. Not so lucky for 14 million people in Texas and parts of the Deep South. A little history and perspective is perhaps in order.
In 1983, I was a medical student at the University of Texas in Houston when Hurricane Alicia barreled through. It caused $3 billion in damage and was the most costly hurricane ever to hit the continental U.S. — up to that time.
Then in 2017 Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damages. It dumped a North American record of 50 inches of rain in one weekend in the Houston area.
We are very lucky to live in the mountains of WNC. We have had a beautiful four season climate and the best water anywhere. But let’s not forget the 2004 hurricane season that dumped a record 22 inches of rain here, putting 7 feet of polluted water in downtown Canton.
Let’s not forget the severe drought a few years back. It dried up a number of wells here, and saw huge fires in Gatlinburg (started by arson?) and in Jackson County.
Now, for three years running we have had unusually high rainfall. Landslides and erosion are continuing problems. Changing temperature patterns are challenging farmers planning their growing seasons. Last year in the Upstate of South Carolina, it hit 100 degrees in Columbia — in October!
Are these climate phenomena related? Is there an underlying trend of dramatic climate changes? The vast majority of climate scientists think so- about 97% of those who spend their entire careers studying the issue.
Furthermore, there is overwhelming agreement that the burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution around 1800 has accelerated these changes.
One half of ALL the carbon put into the atmosphere by human activity has occurred just since 1980. Getting back to more recent history, in 2020 temperatures reached an unheard of 100 degrees in Siberia — SIBERIA!
How can that heating up be related to the big freeze in the Southern USA?
The connection may seem far fetched, but then so does one bat in rural China infecting one person leading to 500,000 deaths in the USA. The fact is that what happens ‘over there’ affects us here.
The arctic region is heating up TWICE as fast as the rest of the planet, and this has a direct effect on strange and dangerous weather patterns right here in the Southern USA.
As explained in a recent National Geographic magazine, as more man-made greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere global average temperatures rise. The sea ice that has covered the Arctic area for over 13,000 years, reflecting sunlight back into space, is shrinking. More ice-free dark sea water appears.
Like wearing a dark shirt on a hot sunny day, more heat is absorbed as less sun light is reflected away, raising the temperature of the water. Then more ice melts, exposing more expanses of dark water causing more heat to be absorbed and…..a “positive” feedback loop that begins to feed on itself is created. (Source: https://blog.nwf.org/2014/05/dont-on-denial-part1/)
One effect of global temperature rise is the slowing down of the Gulf Stream. This massive Atlantic under sea current pushes 30 times the water volume of all the rivers in the world. It flows in a huge circle from the coast of Africa across to the Caribbean, passing by Cape Hatteras up to Massachusetts and then across to Europe and back down to the African coast.
As the Gulf Stream slows, it warms and dries the air over Sub–Saharan Africa, threatening devastating drought. This may seem far away from North Carolina, except that it is the hot air from Africa, swirling into Tropical depressions that flow West into the Caribbean that form hurricanes.
The 2020 Atlantic saw the most named tropical storms ever. Thirty. Twelve hurricanes landed on shore in the USA. A remarkable video of this process can be seen here:
The U.S. military has called climate change a national security issue. Rising sea levels threaten naval bases in the continental U.S. and around the world. Most of the 60 million displaced persons in the world at this moment are fleeing wars caused by drought (Syria and Africa) poverty caused by deforestation and economic displacement (Central America) and rising sea levels (Eastern India, Bangladesh and Island nations).
Next a time bizarre and seemingly rare climate occurrence happens, anywhere, look into the causes. Understand the link between what happens “over there” and conditions here in WNC. An informed public can help government, industry and finance make decisions that have a positive impact on the climate crisis. This is already happening.
Because of public concern, ALL major oil companies and international banks have turned away from oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. Right here in WNC the city of Asheville has launched a major effort to make solar power accessible to homes, business and public institutions.
PS- The 2021 hurricane season starts June 1.
Dr. Stephen Wall is a member of the WNC Climate Action Coaliton and Physicians for Social Resonsibility.