In 1988 (the year I was born) James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before the U.S. Senate on the destruction climate change would bring to Earth in the coming years if something were not done to start curbing dangerous carbon pollution. In his Washington Post opinion piece published earlier this month, Hansen reveals that the bleak forecast he predicted for our planet 24 years ago was far too optimistic:
“My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.”
Hansen and his team of scientists have looked at extreme weather patterns over the last six decades and have seen how much more frequent these patterns have become. The most universal observation is the increase in the number of extremely hot and dry summer days across the county. This summer was no exception. The intense heat over the past few summers has become the most recognizable form of climate change to many Americans. This summer’s droughts and wildfires across the Midwest have only confirmed the fact that climate change is here and happening now. Perhaps itis finally starting to hit home to some former skeptics.
It’s incredible to chart the drastic climate change-related events that have happened just over my lifetime, and from the time Hansen first testified before Congress. Below is a snapshot of some of the most notable events global climate change has brought on the Earth just in the last quarter of a century.
1. 1988- Severe Heat-wave and Drought across the U.S.
The summer of 1988 brought an intense drought in central and eastern U.S. with very severe losses to agriculture and related industries. There was an estimated $71 billion damage/costs and an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 deaths (including heat stress-related).
2. 1991- The Perfect Storm (Halloween Nor’easter of 1991) Hits New England
The so-called “perfect storm” hit the North Atlantic producing large waves along the New England and Canadian coasts. Total damage to Massachusetts alone topped $100 million.
3. 1995- The Disintegration of the Larsen A Ice Shelf
The northernmost Larsen Ice Shelf, located near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, has been in retreat for the last few decades, and much of it is now gone. In late January of 1995, about 2000 square kilometers (770 square miles) disintegrated into small icebergs during a storm. Later in 2002, the Larsen B Ice Shelf, a 3,250-square-kilometer (1,255 square-miles) collapsed as well leaving the entire shelf at 25% of its former state.
Pre and post ice shelf break from http://nsidc.org/news/press/larsen_B/1995.html
4. 1998- Hurricane Madeline Flooded Texas
Massive flooding hit the south central region of Texas from October 18–19th, dumping approximately 30 inches of rainfall in that 48 hour time period and causing 31 deaths and $1.5 billion in damage.
5. 2005- Hurricane Katrina Hits Louisiana
Katrina hit the Louisiana coast with 125 mph sustained winds, causing a storm surge that broke levees that shielded New Orleans from surrounding, higher coastal waters, and leaving 80 percent of the city under water. The hurricane killed at least 1,836 people and inflicted damages estimated at around $125 billion.
6. 2006- Deadly Tornadoes Touched Down in Missouri
Missouri had a record-breaking 102 documented tornadoes in 2006 causing 13 deaths and 273 injuries. The largest two-day tornado outbreak in history happened in Missouri on March 11-12th killing 12 people and injuring more than 100.
7. 2008- Typhoon Fengshen Hit the Philippines
This deadly typhoon killed almost 1,400 people in the Philippines, nearly 800 of which were killed after a ferry capsized near the center of the typhoon. $480 million in damages were caused.
Fengshen destruction from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/7467735.stm
8. 2010- Extremely Cold and Wet Winter Weather on the East Coast of the U.S.
In February 2010, a massive blizzard dubbed “Snowmageddon” by president Obama caused chaos in the eastern US, with parts of the region buried under more than 20 inches of snow.
View of my front yard (in Northern VA) during “Snowmageddon 2010”
9. 2011- Reckless Tornado Hit Joplin, Missouri
The tornado that hit the city of 50,000 was the deadliest single tornado in the country since 1947 and the ninth-deadliest tornado of all time. Emergency officials said that 116 people were killed and about 400 were injured.
10. 2012- Super Derecho Storms Hit Middle and Eastern United States
In July, a “super derecho” of violent thunderstorms left a more than a 700-mile trail of destruction across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic, cutting power to millions and killing 13 people. States of emergencies were declared in Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. With 2.5 million in the dark, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell stated that “Virginia experienced its largest non-hurricane power outage in history.”
These are just 10 examples of some of the most recognizable faces of climate change over the past 24 years – which is basically my whole lifetime. As Hansen explains in his article, extreme weather patterns will continue to worsen if we do not do something to curb pollution. While these incidents span my lifetime, I hope that the next time Hansen testifies, he will be able to illuminate the strides people have taken to lessen the effects of global climate change. Let’s join together to blaze the new path forward for a cleaner, healthier environment.