Dire weather will increase in number and severity as global warming escalates

A couple of months ago the McMinnville City Club hosted Brenda Braxton, morning news anchor on KGW. Responding to a question she noted that weather is the most popular reason that her audience watches the morning news. Aside from the forecast, weather frequently makes the news when it sets some sort of record resulting in a flood, forest fire, wind damage or other disaster.Sept. 4 guest opinion

Of course, record weather events are nothing new, but the scale and frequency of extreme events is rising. Scientists have long predicted that increased floods, droughts and record setting heat waves are a likely consequence of our warming climate. But, they also cautioned that it would be hard to blame climate change for any individual weather event.

The recent history of extreme weather events is confirming earlier predictions and has given climate scientists the confidence to be less cautious in their projections. Now the consensus is that not only will extreme events occur much more frequently than in the past, but also that climate change is likely to increase the severity of nearly all weather events. Recent examples include heat waves, floods, droughts and fires.

In 2003, a prolonged extreme heat wave in southern Europe was blamed for 70,000 premature deaths and major crop losses. Those losses drove up world commodity market, prices resulting in food shortages in Third World populations that already suffered from malnutrition.

Last year, Hurricane Sandy, which devastated coastal New York and New Jersey, was the second most expensive storm in United States history (after Hurricane Katrina). Its size was directly related to very warm ocean surface temperatures that are a result of climate warming.

Southwestern United States is in a prolonged drought. In 2011, the drought in Texas progressed from “severe” to “extreme” to “exceptional.” It’s moderated only slightly since then. Drought throughout the western United States has caused a substantial increase in large wild fires — taking out hundreds of homes as well as tracts of forest.

There is every indication that the number and size of dramatic weather-related events are likely to increase as the climate warms.

It’s not good news, but newscasters like Brenda Braxton can expect that the weather-related stories coming across her desk will get more dramatic in coming years.

Brian Doyle is a Newberg resident and engineer

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