Extreme weather seems here to stay—it’s getting worse and making our lives more difficult. Will we fight and defeat it, or accept it as the new normal?
Living in Santa Monica, CA, winters usually involve the “difficult” choice between long sleeve shirt above my T-shirt, a sweater or a light Jacket. On the rare occasions when we are blessed with rain (an infrequent event in Southern California, which is going on 4 years of drought), I have an umbrella handy.
But that is not the case on the other side of the country. Buffalo NY, and surrounding areas, have been battered by a massive lake-effect snowstorm, burying cars and houses under feet of snow, caving in at least 30 roofs to date, killing at least 8 people (4 plus from heart attacks), injuring countless others and imprisoning many more in their homes.
The weight of this snow on roofs is estimated as that of 2-3 pickup trucks, and more snow is coming. Since rain is predicted as well, it will act as a blanked on the snow (snow absorbs the water), adding substantially more weight. In addition, as temperatures warm up, the resulting large amounts of water from melted snow will create floods and bring about more damage and misery.
As reported by the Associated Press, this is an “epic snowfall” even for Buffalo, NY (a place used to snow storms), and will be the subject of fireside and bedside stories to grandchildren for years to come. While visiting the city, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said:
“This is a historic event. When all is said and done, this snowstorm will break all sorts of records, and that’s saying something in Buffalo.”
Cuomo declared a state of emergency in 10 counties and deployed the state’s National Guard to help with rescue and cleanup.
This “fast and furious” storm arrived so quickly, it caught people of guard. It trapped more than 100 vehicles along a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway and locked people in their homes, on the highways and at work. A few select stories to put a human face on this disaster:
1. Tom Wilson, of West Seneca was trapped with his co-works in the warehouse for 36 hours:
“I slept on a pallet. Then slept on some office chairs, then back to the pallet. We tried to make popcorn with a two-by-four, two empty pop kegs, some charcoal and dust pan. It didn’t work.”
2. The Niagara University women’s basketball team was trapped on a bus for nearly 30 hours and had to melt snow for water. Coach Kendra Faustin:
“I’m sure when it’s all done we’ll look back at it and remember how great a bonding experience it was. For now, I think everyone just wants to go home and sleep in their own beds.”
3. Bethany Hojnacki went into labor in the middle of the storm, and when she and her husband could not get to the hospital, she ended up giving birth at a Buffalo fire station. Baby Lucy weighed in at 6 pounds, 2 ounces and both mother and child were taken to the hospital and are doing fine.
“Heat waves that are now once-in-a-generation events will become hotter and happen once every five years by mid century, and every other year by the end of the century, and in some places, such as most of Latin America, Africa and a good chunk of Asia, they are likely to become yearly bakings. And the heavy rainstorms that usually happen once every 20 years will happen far more frequently, three times as frequently by end of century if we keep burning fossil fuels at current levels.”
As to the effect of this warming trend on our cold climate extremes, a recent study Monitoring and Understanding Trends in Extreme Storms: State of Knowledge, explores the connection of extreme weather and climate change and suggests that:
“Extreme precipitation is the only (yet important) severe storm category changing in a meaningful way and for which increasing greenhouses provides a strong explanation for recent trends. Reliable data indicate heavy precipitation events are increasing and rising amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere due to human-caused warming offer a good, but not necessarily complete, explanation. There’s indication that big snowstorms have increased over the past 60 years but no clear explanation for the change.”
“We’re seeing storms like we’ve never seen before in terms of intensity and frequency. Storms that occurred maybe every hundred years are now occurring every three years. That’s the new normal we’re living in. If you look at 2013, for example, temperatures on both the hot side and the cold side have deviated the most since 1900. So we have extreme weather happening everywhere, not just in remote areas but at our front door.”
As our weather keeps changing and getting more and more extreme, and efforts continue to mobilize people, international organizations, governments and countries to minimize and reverse some of the damaging trends, the good people of Buffalo NY will have to get used to heavier and harsher snow storms and all the destruction they bring with them. The sad and depressing fact is that they will not be alone. All of us will continue to be subjected to the damaging effects and misery of escalating and accelerating climate extremes. What, if anything, we do to solve this issue and decelerate climate change, is completely and totally up to us.