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Adapting to extreme weather: Part 1 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, February 14, 2013 1:49 PM

By James J. Hoorman
Assistant Professor OSU-Extension Putnam County

People love to talk and complain about the weather.

In 2011, the wettest and warmest year on record occurred followed by the hot weather and drought of 2012. Weather experts say that the last 50 years were rather “mild” in relationship to weather changes but we now are entering an era where we should expert “extreme” weather changes.
History reveals that weather changes can be quick and quite variable. So expect more talking and complaining about the weather. The following information comes from a USDA-SARE grant to educate clientele in the Midwest about weather and climate.

Weather and climate both deal with atmospheric conditions like temperature, cloud cover, and precipitation. Weather describes short term events like what the temperature is today, while climate deals with average weather changes over time, like what is the average temperature. Global warming is a term used to describe the increase in average temperatures due to greenhouse gases. Climate change describes changes in precipitation (rainfall or snow), wind patterns, sea levels, extreme events, and includes temperature changes. In the future, while Midwestern USA is expected to heat up, the west coast may actually be cooler than normal. In the next several decades due to “climate change”, we should expect average temperatures to rise, expect more intense precipitation and storms, longer growing seasons, earlier snow melts, and changes in plant and animal migrations.

Yale and George Mason University (March 2012) conducted a poll of Americans’ opinion on global warming. About 13 percent were alarmed, 26 percent were concerned, 29 percent were cautious, 6 percent were disengaged (not sure), 15 percent were doubtful, and 10 percent were dismissive; so opinions varied widely. However, 97 percent of weather experts and scientist agree that “climate change” not necessarily global warming is occurring and that we need to start planning now for how we can adapt to extreme weather.

Dr. Glen Peters in the Journal of Nature Climate Change reveals that the world emits nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere. This is a 3 percent increase over last year and amounts to more than 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide released each second into the atmosphere. One of the largest emissions is from the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) are both greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Other greenhouse gases include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Methane emissions increase the warming effect 72x and nitrous oxide 310x more than carbon dioxide, so these gases are being closely monitored.

Dr. Jeff Rodgers, the state climatologist for Ohio, says the greenhouse effect is not all bad. Without carbon dioxide and water vapor in our atmosphere, the average temperature on earth would be like the moon, about 1 degree Fahrenheit. Carbon dioxide adds 19 degrees and water vapor another 39 degrees for an average temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the glaciers, which were 3 to 5 miles high, came through Ohio the atmospheric carbon dioxide level was 180 parts per million. Recently, scientist discovered that palm trees once grew in the Arctic Circle with carbon dioxide levels at 280 ppm. Today, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are around 393 ppm and climbing, so we should expect temperatures to continue to warm as the glacier ice melts and average temperatures rise.

So what should we expect? Events now considered rare will become commonplace. Heat waves will likely become longer and more severe. Droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions. We will likely see increases in severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Higher temperatures increase moisture in the atmosphere so expect more intense storms and larger rainfall amounts with winter storms tracking and shifting northward. While summers may be slightly warmer, most of the temperature changes are expected to occur with warmer summer nights.

Some weather changes may be beneficial. Weather models predict a 13 percent increase in atmospheric moisture in June-July-August which should benefit agricultural crops. Rain makes grain in the summer, so with about a 10 percent increase in average precipitation in the Midwest, farmers can expect crop yields to increase by about 20 percent. However expect more flooding with about a 5-fold increase in high-precipitation events, mostly in June, July and August. More frequent floods are the result of more rain and more intense rain events. Streams amplify changes in precipitation by a factor of 2-4 times, so agricultural runoff could be a major issue.
Next week I’ll discuss specific agricultural changes that farmers may want to consider to help us adapt to these expected extreme weather changes.


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