The weather by 2014
06 January 2014
By January 2014, the weather all over the globe seems to be competing for new records. From spring like weather in the Netherlands, floods in the UK and Belgium, to heavy snowfall and snowstorms in Eastern USA. What's going on? How is this possible? Let me start with explaining what is going on in all the regions in terms of the current weather.
The USA: it has not been so cold in the USA since over 20 years! It is around -21 degrees Celsius and an upcoming pool wind makes things worse with a wind chill of around -50 degrees Celsius! Heavy storms with rainfall, snow, ice or a mixture of these are raging over the Eastern parts of the USA. The low pressure center associated with the storm will continue to intensify as it moves to the northeast. Furthermore, there is a blizzard warning in the last days as well. The temperature extremes, together with the storm and blizzard is dangerous for man and animals. There are already some people who could not stand the cold and have past away because of it1.
The UK and Belgium: so what is happening in the UK and Belgium? Well, heavy rainstorms are blowing over the eastern coast of the UK and all over Belgium, leaving disastrous effects and destruction behind. Indeed, waves can be as high as 10 meters and are very dangerously overflowing the streets of numerous cities. Some have even died, while others are missing or trapped into their homes2.
The Netherlands: in the Netherlands it is so warm that it resembles spring, rather than winter. We have not seen any snow (yet) or ice. This is remarkable since usually around this time of year, we have seen snow and ice. Indeed, last Sunday it was such remarkable nice weather that a warm winter coat was almost unnecessary.
So is this normal? I wouldn't argue so, though I'm not a climate expert. However, what I do know is that in the Netherlands it should be snowing, while that should also be the case in the UK, rather than rainstorms and the like. And in the USA? Well, it is often so extreme there, but not so much as this time. So who is the bad man causing this? Well, let us look what climate change can do by building on an earlier blog on this 'Climate Change'.
Earth's climate and ecosystems are continuously changing. As for the climate, this is mainly being stimulated by the sun and it's radiation. Half of the sunlight reaches the earth's surface, the othe half is reflected back to the outer space. The warmer the surface, the more radiation is reverberated. A part of the infrared heat radiation is held together in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Without such a greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, almost all sunlight and heat would be reverberated back into the universe and Earth would have been 33 degrees Celsius colder than currently the case.
However, greenhouse gasses are increasing in the atmosphere due to unsustainable and polluting practices from industries, households, agriculture, (air and car) travel, and forestry. The threshold for a reasonably safe increase of temperatures was 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air (1.5 degrees Celsius). However, by May 2013, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide surpassed the 400 parts per million for the first time in human history3. This increases the temperatures in the atmosphere and possibly causes extreme weather events.
Thus, I would argue, although, I'm not an expert, the examples of extreme weather events currently in the USA and Europe, can (partly) be explained by the climate change phenomenon4. However, there is off course also a natural cause due to high and low pressure areas. But these can be aggravated by climate change. This is alarming because, if we continue with this path of increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and with it increasing global temperatures, we are at the dawn of a society, economic, and ecosystem collapse.
So what does this tell us for the future? We should be very careful for what we wish for when continuing with emitting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Thus, the solution lies in low-carbon societies. How? Firstly, you can look at all the blogs on 'what to do with' which gives personal tips on what you can do in relation to a certain topic, such as 'What to do with # 2: Energy'. But what can be done on a national scale? On that matter, I will delve into with the next blog.
1Sources: NOS news, Netherlands National News; http://www.weather.com/news/weather-winter/winter-storm-ion-midwest-snow-bitter-cold-20140103