2021 was a climate change nightmare — and the worst may be yet to come
In late December — a time when Colorado residents typically keep their snow shovels nearby — a fast- moving wildfire in Boulder County, Colorado destroyed hundreds of homes and forced around 30,000 people to evacuate. This wildfire serves as yet another sobering reminder of the dangers of climate change. From wildfires in the western U.S. to tornadoes in Kentucky to record flooding in New York City and Philadelphia, 2021 will go down in history as a climate change nightmare.
Climate change deniers, forever contemptuous of science, will point out that hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires and tornados existed long before the 21st Century — which is true but fails to see the big picture. Yes, people were coping with hurricanes and droughts 500 years ago, but climate change, according to top scientists, is making them more common and more intense.
One of the effects of climate change is that some places will receive way too much rain while other places don’t have nearly enough of it. In 2021, California suffered one wildfire after another, while other parts of the U.S. had much more rain than they could handle. After Hurricane Ida pounded Louisiana in late August, its remnants made their way north — and the Northeastern Corridor suffered a variety of severe weather in early September, from tornados in New Jersey to major flooding in New York City and Philadelphia. Major streets in Queens, Brooklyn and Philly’s downtown area, Center City, resembled rivers, and the NYC subway had to be shut down. The Philly suburbs experienced both flooding and tornado warnings.
In a highly informative article published by the Atlantic on December 27, journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis — known for her reporting on climate change — stresses that flooding is unavoidable when too much rain falls much too quickly.
“This was a year of too much rain,” Pierre-Louis explains. “It rained too much in the Northeast. It rained too much in the Pacific Northwest, where, after a hazy summer of record wildfires, record rainfall temporarily rendered Vancouver impassable by road or rail. On the Gulf Coast and in the mid-Atlantic, the wettest days keep getting wetter. This is one of climate change’s twisted bits of logic: Where it was dry, it was too dry. But where it was wet, it was way too wet.”
Pierre-Louis nailed it perfectly. 2021 was, as she pointed out, a “year of too much rain.” But it was also a year of too much dryness in places. For areas that have been ravaged by wildfires in recent years — from California and Colorado to Australia — severe dryness was the problem. When, on the other hand, the Vine Street Expressway in the heart of Philadelphia looked like a river, the problem was way too much rain in a short amount of time.
“In New York City, nearly 15 years after the mayor’s office began announcing bold strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation, the rain made a mockery of those plans,” Pierre-Louis notes. “In July, 1.5 inches of rain fell in an hour, drowning streets and flooding social media with discordant images of people wading through inundated subway entrances to reach trains that were somehow still running. In September, the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which began its life as a tropical wave across the eastern Caribbean Sea, dropped more than six inches of rain on New York City in a few hours. Roughly half of that rainfall — 3.15 inches — fell within the first hour.”
LIVE: #PHILADELPHIA FLOODING UPDATE l Officials are providing an update after historic flooding has submerged parts of the city following remnants of #Ida https://cbsloc.al/3taQKfD— CBS Philly (@CBS Philly) 1630595740
Stunning footage of a large #tornado from New Jersey this evening! \n\nDangerous tornadoes were spotted in multiple locations between Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.\n\n#DEwx #PAwx #NJwxpic.twitter.com/QjqNmi2bFC— WeatherNation (@WeatherNation) 1630544401
Just look at what the flooding Schuylkill River is doing to I-76 and I-676 in Philadelphia. Avoid driving if you don't need to as water rushes onto roadways. http://on.nbc10.com/9Y4zT1F\u00a0pic.twitter.com/s36668scg1— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBC10 Philadelphia) 1630581415
Art DeGaetano, who specializes in atmospheric science at Cornell University, told The Atlantic, “When that two inches come in an hour as opposed to a day, there’s just no way for that water to seep into the soil to be absorbed into the landscape.”
Pierre-Louis notes that the remnants of Hurricane Ida killed more people in the Northeast than in Louisiana, where it made landfall. And according to Pierre-Louis, the “too-much-rain” kind of flooding has “has become a recurring problem” thanks to climate change.
DeGaetano told The Atlantic, “Instead of getting 100 events where it rains a half an inch, the extreme example would be you get ten events that rain five inches. In the end, you have the same amount of water, but it comes in a very different way.”
In New York City, according to Pierre-Louis, “The rate at which the city is adapting to these threats is lagging behind the speed at which rain is drowning it…. After Ida, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed the storm’s impact on poor weather forecasting and said the city would hire a private weather service for a second opinion. But the National Weather Service forecast was accurate, and warned that the region would receive as much as eight inches of rain. The problem wasn’t the forecast, but that the city failed to grasp the consequences of the warning, and that it rained too much too quickly — and that no one had a plan for dealing with that.”
Residents of Boulder County, Colorado, on the other hand, would have welcomed rain when their homes were burning to the ground in late December. But as Pierre-Louis astutely points out, climate change is creating extremes. When places with arid climates are burning, places with more humidity are drowning.
2021, time and time again, showed how great a threat climate change is. And the worst may be yet to come.
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