Monday, July 2, 2012

East Coast thunderstorm

I spent last week at a family reunion. We met at Pigeon Forge, TN and had a very nice time. My son and I then drove through North Carolina and north through Virginia to get home. We arrived just an hour before a massive thunderstorm hit and knocked out the power. I love thunderstorms and have seen some real good ones in northern Texas and the Midwest plains, but this one was something to see. It slammed in very suddenly, had incredible winds and fierce lightning. The entire mid-section of the country had a tremendous heat wave last week with temperatures in the triple-digits. Of course, that heated air eventually made it's way east. As this hot air hit moist, cooler air in the east it resulted in the thunderstorms. And, these were not just local storms, either. They stretched from the Great Lakes to North Carolina with the most severe parts in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. If my son and I had driven the more direct route home through Virginia we would have been driving through the storm system all day long.

We were lucky, we got our power back on Sunday. News reports are that 14 people died and millions are without power. The local utility company is saying some areas may be without power for up to 10 days. That will be a true hardship in this heat.

Is this thunderstorm related to global warming? It is always difficult to point at a single example as evidence of global warming, but it has always been clear that increased warmth in the atmosphere will cause more severe weather. I believe last week's heat wave and Friday's thunderstorms were, in fact, the result of global warming. If the air had not been supercharged with energy the thunderstorms would not have occurred. And, the air was heated up because drought conditions in the Midwest made the ground dry. Instead of evaporating water in the ground, sunlight heated the ground up and caused the heat wave. The drought conditions are caused by changes in the climate.

The planet's weather system is a big engine, similar to the engine in your car. If you step on the gas pedal and deliver more gasoline to the engine it surges. Likewise, if you send a bunch of energy into the atmosphere the weather system will surge. Record heat waves across the United States followed by record thunderstorms require vast amounts of energy. No energy, no heat wave. No energy, no thunderstorms. Pretty simple, actually (the difficulty is in the details). Yet, climate change deniers will want you to believe that the increasing number of extreme weather events are just happening naturally and there is nothing to worry about.

But, there is something to worry about. This is just the beginning. Weather will be more and more extreme as global warming continues. And, it is continuing. This year, 2012, is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. But, I will bet right now that the record won't last long.

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