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Whiplashed by weather?

April 16th, 2014 · No Comments

Drastic shifts in weather (from beautiful sunny skies to dark menacing ones, from t-shirt frisbee temperatures to parka-wearing cold, from …) are natural. Humanity, however, has been putting its figures on the scales of “natural”. As Bill McKibben so eloquently discussed 25 years ago in The End of Nature, due to fossil fuel emissions, humanity’s footprint is global. And, as he laid out in Eaarth, we now have changed the earth so much that the “natural world” of the 21st century and beyond is removed from what it was even in my youth a few decades ago. The next person who asks me what happened to my neck is gonna get this umbrella shoved right up his you-know-what...

Amid mounting climate change and increased climate chaos, a term of growing frequency: “weather whiplash”:

The term “weather whiplash” describes the rapid transition from one extreme weather event to another opposing extreme event.

Last May, for example, Iowa had unusual May snow that was soon followed by 106F record heat.

Sioux City, Iowa had their first-ever snowfall on record in the month of May on May 1 (1.4″), but hit an astonishing 106° yesterday. Not only was this their hottest temperature ever measured in the month of May, but only two June days in recorded history have been hotter (June, 10, 1933: 107° and June 21, 1988: 108°.) On May 12th they registered 29°, and thus had a 77° rise over 56 hours (from 6 a.m. May 12 to 1:30 p.m May 14.)

Right now, far from the first time through the 2013-2014 winter (okay, it is now spring), I feel like I am wearing a neck brace.  Two days ago, I was working in the yard in a t-shirt and today I went outside in a winter coat. Being well aware of the need to be careful in extrapolating from our backyard to the globe, after decades of living in the region, it certainly ‘appears’ that the Washington, DC, area is now whipping between extremes with greater frequency.  I have lost count of how many times the DC area — my backyard — has had over 30F or 20C shift in high and/or low temperature in less than 96 or 48 hours over the past six months.  Multiple times, we were walking without coats one day to be shoveling snow the next to then, a few days or hours later, be in short sleeves with snow on the ground.

This past Sunday topped 80F and the late evening was 76F/24C (about 10 pm was last I looked at the weather in my backyard) — t-weather with flowers in glory.  Last night was below freezing and most of the flowers are now drooping.  And, this is real ‘whiplash’ as you don’t know whether to have shorts or sweaters out … and, anyone who planted tomatoes in the heat over the weekend just lost them to the cold last night.

My ‘impression’ is that this winter has been the worse that I have ever experienced in terms of such major shifts.

Honestly, this is an ‘impressionistic’ perspective that would be a rather straightforward piece of analysis:   How many days per annum of over 50F (or 30C) (or 35F / 20C) shift in high and/or low temperature in less than 96 or 48 hours over the past 100 years?  The data is there even I don’t have the time / resources to run it to see whether the hypothesis of ‘increased weather whiplash as seen in rapid significant temperature shifts’ is substantiated by the historical data.
Obviously, temperature variability is not the only ‘weather whiplash’ element. Some predicted climate change impacts are already clear in the data and well documented, such as ever greater precipitation in extreme events. And, winds … And, … And, …  This arena — weather whiplash — does seem appropriate for greater scientific work — from defining the term with scientific precision to analyzing the issue in regional and global terms with historical data and modeling it for the future.
In any event, Weather Whiplash doesn’t only seem to be an ever growing reality of Eaarth’s climate but a fruitful arena for further scientific analysis.
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon, whiplash
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Tags: climate change · Global Warming · science