Natural Disasters and Their Long-Term Implications

Photo by NOAA Photo Library. Some rights reserved.

Photo by NOAA Photo Library. Some rights reserved.

It seems like every bad thing that happens in the natural world (and some of the good things too – like extraordinarily good weather here in Seattle at a time when it’s usually still grey and cold) almost uniformly circles back to climate change. Flooding, tsunamis, tornadoes – these things aren’t just tragedies for the communities that they affect directly, they’re also harbingers of a grim future in which we’re dealing with these kinds of things on a much more frequent and perhaps more severe basis.

Case in point: Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown, a vocal supporter of climate change action, told reporters this week that the wildfires that tore across the Santa Monica Mountains at a much earlier date than usual could be blamed on global warming:

“Our climate is changing, the weather is becoming more intense,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “The big issue (is) how do we adapt, because it doesn’t look like the people who are in charge are going to do what it takes to really slow down this climate change, so we are going to have to adapt. And adapting is going to be very, very expensive.”

Hmm. Doesn’t sound particularly promising. On the other hand, maybe not all natural side effects of global warming are inherently bad things. This week, a report from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory highlighted a record low count for tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012, the lowest since recordkeeping on tornadoes began in 1954, and well below the previous record set in 1991 (197 in 2012 vs. 247 in 1991). While it’s not 100% clear that this dip in tornadoes has to do with climate change, there is a link to the lack of moisture in the air and the shortage of rainfall last year, weather abnormalities that themselves can be traced back to climate change. As Climate Central points out, “tornadoes are complicated beasts, affected not only by moisture and temperature but also by wind shear and other factors. So far, there’s simply not enough information to say anything definitive about the future of tornadoes under climate change.”

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