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Big storms brewing

By Don Bain

Slightly less than six years ago, an international group of scientists released a report detailing the recorded effects of less than one degree Farenheit of global warming over the last 100 years. Among their most dramatic findings was the projection of the effects of extreme climactic events upon people and ecosystems.

According to the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change, economic losses from catastrophic weather have increased from an inflation-adjusted $4 billion in the ’50s to a whopping $40 billion in 2000. The large international insurance agencies are convinced the likelihood of these extreme events must be figured into their tables. So why aren’t we?

Even before this report was released, the worst floods in over 20 years struck Santiago, Chile, in July 2000, swamping city streets, killing at least 17 people and leaving 129,000 homeless and even more destitute than they were a few days earlier.

Flash forward five years and Hurricane Katrina made its category 3” impact on the boundary of Louisianna and Mississippi killing nearly 2,000 people and changing the city of New Orleans and the Mississippi River delta for all time.

According to Chris Landsea, CSU graduate and science and office manager for the National Hurricane Center, there was a big jump in hurricane activity and strength in 1995 and over the next 10 years, though we are currently in a two-year lull. He also pointed out Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes tend to average out to 14, with eight Atlantic and six Pacific in a normal year.

Jump ahead to 2007 and the enviromental groups in Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts have all published reports demonstrating an increase in the severity and incidence of extreme storms. The Massachussets report tallies a 64 percent increase in big downpours and heavy snowstorms since 1948, the greatest increase in the country. Coastal areas are extremely susceptible to flooding.

“Seventy-five percent of our poplulation lives on the coastline,” said Massachusetts State Senator Marc R. Pacheco at the presentation of the report. “This poses an increased risk for public health, natural resources and property-loss.”

This problem is not limited to our coasts as Tabasco, Mexico experienced their worst flooding in 50 years this November. The storms left 1,000,000 people – one third of them children – trapped in their homes with no food, medicine or potable water.

Far away from the coasts, in Arizona and Colorado, the projection of these weather patterns persists. A report issued by the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center concludes the tendency to exaggerate weather events will continue in the West and Pacific Northwest as the climate changes. According to Noah Diffenbach, one of the authors of the report, this will create “essentially a longer, more intense storm season – sort of a feast or famine” of precipitation. It doesn’t mean more rain or precipitation, just more rain or snow per storm.

Take the snows in the San Juan Mountains for example. Just last week they received over seven feet of snow in just five days. The same system went on to create ice storms in Oklahoma and Missourri leaving thousands with no power.

In Colorado, the report issued by Environment Colorado shows major downpours up 25 percent in the state over the last 60 years. We have also experienced a 30 percent increase in extreme rain or snowstorms. Grand Junction has suffered a 53 percent increase in extreme storms with heavy precipitation. “At the rate we’re going, what was once the storm of the decade will soon seem like just another downpour,” said Keith Hay, energy advocate for Environment Colorado.

Less dramatic and yet just as devastating are the droughts which have struck California, Georgia and the Carolinas. Hay agreed droughts would likely intensify as well. In North Carolina just last month, they were counting the days of usable water they had left at under 100. The drought remains serious there.

In California, drought and the Santa Anna Winds combined to create the worst wildfires in years. A computer program developed by Christine Wiedinmyer of the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded these wildfires produce as much carbon dioxide in a few weeks as all the cars in California over a year’s time. So logically, the fires will add to the atmosphere’s CO2 content, exacerbating the very conditions which create the droughts and wildfires.

So will obesity in America. An article published in the October-December issue of The Engineering Scientist calculates we consume an extra 1 billion gallons of gas annually to haul around our spare tires and love handles. That’s an extra billion gallons of atmospheric emissions for our tendency to say, “Supersize me!”

Not that the world hasn’t always seemed to have insurmountable problems, it’s just this one more or less seems to demand our attention. We have to do more and less simultaneously. Let’s pay more attention to what we consume and then consume less of it. Eat less, drive less, burn less and if you must breathe, don’t overdo it.

Editor’s note: Over the coming weeks we will run stories about what you can do to counter global warning in your daily life as well as how to prepare for extreme storms. We invite our readers to share their suggestions on the “Greening of America” with us.





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