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El Niño increases global warming: record heat, floods, forest fires

Traffic controller Ry Rogers sits on his horn during an 8-hour shift under the hot sun in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 12, 2023, where the temperature reached 106 degrees amid the unrelenting heat. This week, more than 50 million Americans are set to bake in dangerously high temperatures from California to Texas to Florida as the southern United States heats up.

Frederick J. Brown | Afp | Getty Images

If you feel like record-breaking extreme weather events are occurring with alarming frequency, you’re not alone. Scientists say it’s not your imagination.

“The amount of simultaneous extreme weather that we’re seeing right now in the northern hemisphere seems to exceed anything, at least in my memory,” Michael Mann, a professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNBC.

June was the hottest June in the 174 years the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been keeping records, the federal agency said Thursday. It was the 47th consecutive June and 532nd consecutive month in which average temperatures were above the 20th century average.

Sea ice extent measured in June was the lowest globally on record, primarily due to record low Antarctic sea ice levels, also according to NOAA.

In June, there were nine tropical cyclones, defined as storms with winds greater than 74 mph, and global accumulated cyclone energy, a measure of the total duration and strength of tropical storms, was nearly double the 1991–2020 average. June, NOAA reported.

As of Friday morning, 93 million people in the United States were under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories, according to a bulletin issued Friday morning by the National Weather Service. “Merry heat is expected to cover much of the West Coast, Great Basin and Southwest,” the National Weather Service said.

A man receives medical treatment after he passed out at a convenience store on July 13, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. A paramedic was called after the man said he felt hot flashes, dizzy, tired and had chest pains. Record-high temperatures continue to rise as prolonged heatwaves grip the South West.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Flooding in downtown Montpelier, Vermont, Tuesday, July 11, 2023. Vermont has been under a state of emergency since Sunday evening as heavy rains continued into Tuesday morning, causing flooding across the state.

The Washington Post | The Washington Post | Getty Images

On June 27, Canada surpassed the 1989 record for total area burned in one season when it reached 7.6 million hectares, or 18.8 million acres. And since then, the total has increased to 9.3 million hectares, or 23 million acres, driven by record high temperatures, turning vegetation into fuel for wildfires.

These record-breaking wildfires in Canada have blanketed parts of the United States in smoke, causing some of the worst air quality in the world.

A view of the city as smoke from wildfires in Canada blankets the sky on June 30, 2023 in New York, United States. Smoke from wildfires in Canada is creating a dangerous haze as New York’s air quality index reaches 160. People have been warned to avoid outdoor exercise and those who spend time outdoors have been advised to use well-fitting face masks if air quality the air is unhealthy.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

In all of 2022, 18 separate weather and climate events totaled $18 billion, including tornado outbreaks, high winds, hail, tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, according to NOAA. According to NOAA, $12 billion worth of weather and climate disasters will occur in 2023.

“This year will almost certainly break records for the number of extreme weather events,” Paul Ulrich, a professor of regional and global climate modeling at the University of California, Davis, told CNBC.

Global warming is making extreme weather events more severe, scientists say.

“Our own research shows that the observed trend toward more frequent, persistent summer extreme weather events — heat waves, floods — is driven by human-caused warming,” Mann told CNBC.

Ulrich agrees. “Increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, floods and wildfires can be directly attributed to climate change,” Ulrich told CNBC.

A wildfire burns above the Fraser River Valley near Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, Friday, July 2, 2021. Prolonged heat continues to fuel multiple wildfires in Canada’s western provinces, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling an emergency cabinet meeting. crisis team to address this issue.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Through greenhouse gas emissions, we trap more heat near the surface, which leads to higher temperatures, more moisture in the air, and a drier land surface,” Ulrich said. “Scientists are very confident that the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme events is a direct consequence of human modification of the climate system.”

Also in June there was a weather called “El Nino”.

El Niño is like adding light fuel to an already smoldering fire. “In the El Niño conditions that have recently emerged, global temperatures are rising, further exacerbating the warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions,” Ulrich said.

This combination of anthropogenic climate change and El Niño is “amplifying some of these extreme events,” Mann said.

Animation of sea surface temperature for the last 6 months


El Niño, which means “little boy” in Spanish, occurs when the normal trade winds that blow west along the equator weaken and warmer water is pushed eastward toward the American west coast. In the United States, a moderate to strong El Niño in fall and winter correlates with wetter-than-average conditions from southern California to the Gulf Coast and drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley.

When global warming and El Niño occur at the same time, “it can be difficult to distinguish between what is just a weather phenomenon or part of a longer trend,” Timothy Canty, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Maryland, told CNBC.

But what is clear is that climate change is making it more likely that an extreme weather event will occur.

“The rise in temperature from climate change is undeniable, and with every degree rise we multiply our changes from extreme heat. In wetter regions of the world, including the northeastern United States, we expect more rain and more intense storms,” ​​Ulrich told CNBC. “To avoid even more extreme changes, we need to both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and act to clean up our polluted atmosphere”.

And as long as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the trend of more and more extreme conditions is expected to continue, Mann says.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels will help mitigate extreme weather trends.

Infographic titled “Antarctic sea ice falls to lowest level in 43 years” created in Ankara, Turkey on March 1, 2023. The extent of sea ice around the continent of Antarctica has fallen to the lowest level since 1979.

Editorial number: 1247611891, Getty Premium

“The good news is that recent research shows that the surface warming that causes more extreme weather events will stabilize quickly when carbon emissions are stopped. So we can prevent all of this from getting worse and worse by rapidly decarbonizing our economy,” Mann told CNBC.

Conti says that each person’s contribution to reducing the climate footprint helps.

“People have basically asked me, ‘What can I do as a person that makes a difference?’ and decided to do nothing and instead blame everyone else. Frankly, a society made up of individuals is what got us to this point,” Canty said.

People can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by making small changes, such as turning off the lights when they are not in the room, turning down the heating or air conditioning when they are not at home, avoiding food waste and using public transport.

Canty said voting also matters a lot. Government leaders have been able to make successful progress in solving international environmental crises in the past, Canti said, pointing to the Montreal Protocol. “There is a roadmap for working together to solve environmental problems in ways that benefit everyone,” Canty said.

“Fixing the ozone hole has required governments, scientists and businesses to work together, and the Montreal Protocol and its amendments have been very successful, not only for ozone but also for the climate,” Canty said, noting that the same chemicals that destroy ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, also very harmful greenhouse gases. “The ozone hole is slowly recovering, and thanks to actions taken in the 80s, we avoided even the worst of global warming, and we still have the conditioner and hairspray that seemed to cause so much panic at the time.”

Unless people and organizations commit to aggressively reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, this battery of extreme weather is a harbinger of the future.

“Unless we can act, what we’re seeing right now is just the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg,” Mann told CNBC.

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