‘I don’t believe it’, was US President Donald Trump’ response to the ‘the National Climate Assessment’, in which climate scientists had concluded that climate change could cost the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives each year in future. From 2018 to 2020, dismissing the climate change theory, Trump’s thinking has not changed. When a question was asked on recent wildfires in California, he said, ‘it’ll just start getting cooler…I don’t think science knows, actually.’ Although many climate scientists do not agree with the US President, there is a recent study on climate change and extreme weather that seems to support what Trump believes.
A British climate writer Paul Homewood in his paper, recently released by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has countered the US Government’s National Climate Assessment report that presents the alarming picture of US climate in future.
Homewood, in its paper, cites that the ‘average annual temperatures have been rising by 0.15 degree Fahrenheit/decade since 1985 but the increase has not been consistent. The temperatures increased rapidly up to 1990s but there has been no warming since then’. The study further says that ‘average summer temperatures were highest in the 1930s…Much higher temperatures were experienced in most of the US prior to 1960, compared to the period since’. It further says that in the US, heat waves have peaked before the 1960’s and apart from the summer of 2012, there have been no extreme heat waves since the 1980s (Homewood 2019).
The recent report and data from various scientific sources do not corroborate the author’s conclusion. In July 2020, over 1200 heat records and 159 July heat records were set across the USA. Dozens of all time hottest temperatures have been recorded (Garrett and Claypool 2020). The Phoenix in Arizona recorded the hottest summer ever, which also contradicts Homewood’s study.
|Phoenix, US: Hottest Summer on Record|
|Maximum Temperature average||Minimum Temperature average||Overall Average Temperature|
|107.90: 2020||84.20: 2020||96.00: 2020|
|107.60: 1989||84.20: 2006||95.40: 2016|
|107.60: 1978||83.70: 2016||95.30: 2006|
|Source: NWS Phoenix, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-wave-western-united-states/|
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the July 2020 global temperature was 62.06o F (16.72oC), that is 1.66o F (0.92oC) above the 20 th century average. Till July 2020, global land and ocean surface temperature was the second highest in the 141-year record at 58.79 oF (14.85 oC), 1.89 oF (1.05 oC) above the 20th century average (NOAA 2020). The record is not limited merely to average temperature. On August 16, 2020 the Death Valley National Park, California recorded the highest temperature of 130 oF (54.4oC), which is also the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth (BBC 2020).
Wildfires: The recent wildfire incidents in the US also contradict Homewood’s study. Based on official data, Paul claims that the acreage lost to wildfire has in fact declined substantially since before the Second World War. Though the total number of wildfires across the US has declined in the recent past, contrary to the study, more areas are burning as the average fire size has increased. According to the US Government Cal Fire-the government’s fire agency, more than 3.3 million acres have burned in 2020, which is an all time record in California’s history (Newburger & Rattner 2020). The state agency’s data shows that five of the largest wildfires in California history are currently active. Climate scientists blame climate change for record breaking area burning. ‘Hotter temperatures, less dependable precipitation and snowpack that melts sooner lead to dried soil and parched vegetation. Climate change also affects how much moisture is in the air,’ says Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles (Mulkern 2020).
Hurricane: Paul’s study paper shows that since 1851 there have been 294 hurricanes, an average of 1.7 per year. It also says that there is no evidence that major hurricanes are becoming more frequent. However some of the recent hurricane wind speed presents different stories. For example, Hurricane Laura that hit western Louisiana making landfall as a category 4 storm with 150 mph sustained winds and was similar to the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 as the strongest land-falling hurricane in Louisiana’s history (Masters 2020). Similarly, during Hurricane Sally in 2020, a peak storm tide of 5.6 feet occurred in Pensacola, Florida that is the city’s third highest level on record (Rice 2020). Among these, there was also Hurricane Dorian, the category 5 storm which was the strongest storm on record to occur east of Florida in the Atlantic (Livingston 2020).
In the study, Homewood has presented similar views on tornadoes, precipitation, sea level trends and wildfires. He concludes that from heat to cold to storms and tornadoes, there is no trend that is out of the ordinary. He wants to suggest that recent weather events do not suggest any alarming conditions for the USA. However, the examples cited above, explicitly shows increased extreme climate events and its impacts. The rising frequency of high temperatures recorded in the Death Valley, widespread wildfires in California and record breaking frequent hurricanes are indeed alarming, not only for the USA, but also the world as a whole.
Anne C. Mulkern. 2020. Fast-Moving California Wildfires Boosted by Climate Change, Scientific American, August 24, available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fast-moving-california-wildfires-boosted-by-climate-change/
BBC. 2020. ‘Highest temperature on Earth’ as Death Valley, US hits 54.4C, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53788018#:~:text=What%20could%20be%20the%20highest,the%20US%20National%20Weather%20Service.
Berardelli J. 2020. Sweltering heat wave bakes the western United States, CBSnews, 14 August, 2020. Available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-wave-western-united-states/
Garrett M., and M. Claypool. 2020. Close to 90% of the country expecting 90 degree heat over the next week, CNN, July 17, 2020. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/16/weather/weekend-forecast-heat-wave-us/index.html#:~:text=(CNN)%20A%20record%2Dbreaking,90%20degree%20temperatures%20or%20higher.
Homewood P. 2020. The US climate in 2019, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Available at https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2020/09/US-Climate-2019.pdf
Livingston I. 2020. Hurricane Dorian has smashed all sorts of intensity records in the Atlantic Ocean, The Washington Post, September 2, 2020. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/09/01/hurricane-dorian-has-smashed-all-sorts-intensity-records/
Masters J. 2020. ‘Devastating’ Laura is tied as the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the continental U.S., Yale Climate Connections, August 27, 2020. Available at https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/devastating-laura-tied-as-fifth-strongest-hurricane-to-make-landfall-in-continental-u-s/
Newburger E.and N. Rattner. 2020. These charts show how wildfires are getting larger, more severe in the U.S., CNBC, September 18, 2020. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/18/fires-in-california-oregon-and-washington-data-shows-blazes-getting-worse-.html
NOAA. 2020. July 2020 was record hot for the N. Hemisphere, 2nd hottest for the planet, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, August 13, 2020. Available at https://www.noaa.gov/news/july-2020-was-record-hot-for-n-hemisphere-2nd-hottest-for-planet#:~:text=The%20July%202020%20global%20temperature,second%2Dhottest%20July%20on%20record.
Rice D. 2020. Dual disasters: How is climate change worsening wildfires and hurricanes?, USA Today, September 17, 2020. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/09/17/hurricane-fire-season-climate-change-making-weather-extreme/5817070002/