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Feeling the heat


Kurt Hochenauer September 14th, 2011

No one can say with absolute certainty that climate change was a factor in this summer’s record-breaking heat, but it would be foolish at this point to not at least consider its impact.

The hot, dry weather, with temperatures often reaching triple digits, brought a severe drought to Oklahoma, causing an estimated $2 billion in farming losses, according to Oklahoma Agricultural Commissioner Jim Reese. The weather helped spark wildfires, here in Oklahoma City and elsewhere in the state, which have destroyed and damaged homes, other buildings and vehicles, while displacing people in the process.

According to the National Weather Service, Oklahoma and Texas have just suffered through the hottest average summer temperatures on record for any state from June through August. Oklahoma weighed in at an average of 86.5 degrees, with Texas just ahead at 86.8 degrees. The Oklahoma City area broke the record for the number of triple-digit-temperature days at 51 on Aug. 22. This was followed by even more 100-plus-degree days.

OKC broke the record for the number of triple-digit-temperature days in July.

In July, Oklahoma broke the all-time average high temperature record for any month ever in the nation.

With cooler weather, one can hope cooler heads will prevail and leaders will set aside the contrarian politics of climate change now in vogue and take a closer look at science and the long-term weather predictions for Oklahoma. A multi-year drought, with summer temperatures close to what the state has just experienced, will be devastating to Oklahoma, from overall economic damage, to potential problems with the state’s water supplies to people’s health. Planning is crucial.

It’s true that one weather event doesn’t necessarily relate to climate change, but the hot weather this summer was so sustained and so fierce, it deserves much more than casual dismissals, such as “next summer will be better” or “rains will come soon.”

Here are a couple of points to consider: —Climate scientist Richard Seager, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has predicted the Southwest could be headed for a period of drought last seen in the Dust Bowl days. This summer seems to validate his prediction, which is based on the growing Hadley cell weather system that could mean less moisture here.

—The United States Global Change Research Program has issued these two key messages important to Oklahoma: The overall annual temperature in the U.S. has risen more than 2 degrees in the last 50 years and future weather projections show “southern areas, particularly in the west, will become drier.”

How much have man-made greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, contributed to climate change? Many scientists say they have had an effect. But after this summer, the question should become a moot point among climate-change deniers here. What’s the point of faux-political, partisan debate about the weather? Oklahomans have felt the heat, the long-term weather predictions are dire, and no one here seems to be consistently planning for what could become a new weather norm.

Some will argue the weather predictions are alarmist and biased, and that there’s nothing to worry about. Others will urge people to pray for rain. But it’s a real gamble not to plan for the worst.

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

 
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09.20.2011 at 06:52 Reply

My biggest gripe with climate change detractors is that they refuse to address the question, what if you're wrong?  

Best as I can tell, if those who believe in it are right, and we act on their belief, the worst thing to come from that would be the construction of a green infrastructure and polution reforms.  If we do nothing now and we ignore the possibility of climate change, we may have squandered the only opportunity we had to prevent catastrophy in the future.

It would seem that doing nothing has a higher price later than doing something now.  And if there is actually no man made climate change the worst thing to come from addressing it would be cleaner air, more fuel efficient vehicles and homes, and preservation of resources we seem bent on using up as soon as possible (water being the most precious of those resources).

 

 
 
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