As the planet warms, we’re seeing more and more outlier weather events and storms — and they’re getting worse.
Record temperatures are pushing essential infrastructure to the brink. Hurricane and wildfire seasons are getting longer. Natural disasters are increasingly destructive, causing more than $210 billion in damages in 2020 alone. People are being forced to move from their homes to avoid these disasters.
This is projected to become the new norm if we continue failing to seriously address climate change.
Every year, out-of-control flames engulf parts of the West Coast, destroying millions of acres of land. Wildfire season has gotten longer by two-and-a-half months since the 1970s, as drier weather and hotter temperatures create conditions for more fires to start.
Hurricanes will cause increasingly more damage as the planet warms. These storms feed off of warmer water, picking up steam as they get closer to shore. The result: an increase in Category 3 or stronger hurricanes, which bring stronger winds and more rainfall that can lead to flooding.
As ocean levels rise, the storm surges caused by hurricanes will also get more destructive. Some cities are already trying to move communities away from coastlines to defend against these surges.
But thanks to climate change, the percentage of the global population exposed to flood threats has expanded significantly. The number of people exposed to floods since 2000 is 10 times higher than previous estimates, and that number is likely to rise as floods threaten regions that aren’t prepared.
“Outlier” weather conditions are happening on the regular, from Texas experiencing freezing temperatures in February 2021 to the Pacific Northwest getting trapped under a deadly heat dome this summer. Concurrent heat waves that affect multiple regions at a time have become significantly more common — seven times as frequent as they were just 40 years ago.
The fallout is often devastating, as these regions aren’t prepared for such extremes. Texas’s power grid failed in the cold. Many residents in states like Washington and Oregon don’t have air conditioners. The results, in both cases, were deadly.
The link between extreme weather and climate change is undeniable. Burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is warming the planet and creating conditions that increase the likelihood of extreme weather.
The hotter the planet gets, the more likely it is that we’ll have to deal with devastating weather, natural disasters, and unseasonable conditions. Keeping the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels presents our best — and potentially only — a chance at keeping extreme weather in check.