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The Good Old Days

July 4, 2013 - Today is Independence Day, not just for Americans, but for the whole world.  Egyptians are the people to have most recently shown us what independence means, not once, but over the course of two years, twice, with two almost bloodless revolutions.  We thank them for their example.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has just issued a report titled The Global Climate 2001-2010, A Decade of Climate Extremes.  Data from 139 nations demonstrate that droughts in Australia, East Africa and the Amazon affected the largest numbers of people globally.  Rampaging floods in Pakistan, Australia, Africa, India and Eastern Europe were the most frequent extreme weather events.  It is interesting that much of the decade's climate was influenced by La Nina, a cooling climate phenomenon that originates in the southeastern Pacific, along the western coast of South America.

Significantly, atmospheric concentrations of the most virulent greenhouse gases were at historic highs by the end of 2010.  Carbon dioxide had risen 39 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750.  Methane had risen by an alarming 158 percent, and nitrous oxide - increased by its use as a petrochemical fertilizer - was up by 20 percent.  How does the escalation of these numbers evidence itself in the real world?

There was an increase in deaths resulting from heatwaves during the decade just past, especially during the extreme summer of 2003 in Europe, and in Russia during 2010.  Wildfires also became more common, with air quality problems that lasted for weeks for the residents of Moscow during that same year.  Who could forget Hurricane Katrina?  Huge super cyclones have pounded nations in the Pacific, most notably Cyclone Nargis.

The decade was the warmest on record over both land and sea.  Because warmer air can hold more moisture, it was the second wettest since 1901.  The record warmth was also accompanied by accelerating declines in Arctic sea ice, the Greenland ice sheets and glaciers, and the Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers.  WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud explains what is happening best: "Natural climate variability, caused in part by interactions between our atmosphere and oceans, means that some years are cooler than others.   On an annual basis, the global temperature curve is not a smooth one.  On a long-term basis, the underlying trend is clearly in an upward direction, more so in recent times."

Meanwhile, these days in the United States it's a tale of two climates.  Out West, searing temperatures have shattered  records as far north as Spokane, Washington.  A similar heatwave killed 17 people in 2005, then as now the result of temperatures at or near 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  The scorching temperatures have hindered the battle being waged in Arizona against the Yarnell Hill wildfire.  On the East Coast, rain introduced the new month from Florida to New England.  Very oddly, the damp weather has moved west, joining a surge of thunderstorms originating in the Gulf of Mexico.  Thunderstorms in Connecticut and New Jersey produced three small tornadoes, not something those folks are used to.

Better start talking about the good ole days, cause these ain't them.

With thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, and the BBC.


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