Global Weather’s New Normal

Editor’s Note: This column was first published November 1st, 2011

“Global Weirding.” I’ll never forget the first time I heard the term. I was reading an article by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and it was one of those moments that holds for a beat before the clock starts moving. Tick… pause. Friedman, in turn, gave credit for coining the term to Hunter Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, but the etymology doesn’t really matter. Reclassifying global warming as “Global Weirding” was an “aha!” moment for me.

As it turns out, I had been looking for a better way to talk about climate change. “Global Warming” sounds a little too tame to me. Plus, being in the business, I find often times the term “Global Warming” confuses people. Author John Michael Greer once quipped, “We should have called it “Radiation Entrapment!” The term would have gotten a lot more attention, plus it fits the real effects of CO2 in the atmosphere. The problem with climate change is that it isn’t just about the weather getting warmer, it’s about extremes: hotter hots, more drought, more flooding, more rain and snow, more hurricanes. It’s all part of a pattern. We’re setting climate records at a record-setting pace. New weather patterns across the world are driven by more moisture in the atmosphere from increased air temperature. The planet has warmed roughly 1 degree Celsius since preindustrial times. Warmer air holds more moisture, for every degree Celsius of atmospheric warming, extreme precipitation increases 6-7%.

I couldn’t help but think about those patterns during the last weekend of October. Sunday afternoon I came back from a quiet walk through the neighborhood, enjoying a pleasantly warm Tennessee fall day, to sit down at my computer and find news of a massive snow storm in the Northeast. Snowfall records for this time of year were smashed from Maryland to Maine and at one point more than 4 million people in the region were without power. I tried to call my in-laws in Connecticut, but all the phone lines were down. I found myself awed by the size of the storm and my heart goes out to the people affected, but a part of me can’t stop thinking about how that storm fits the idea of Global Weirding.

Global Weirding – over the weekend, 30.8 inches of snow fell in Plainfield, Mass. The previous single day record for October 30th was .1 inches. Did you know that NOAA has recorded more billion dollar weather disasters for the US this year than any other year on record? The storm in New England brings this year’s record to 14 storms. The damage estimate in Connecticut alone is $3 billion, far more than the damage Hurricane Irene did to the state. And while no one storm proves or disproves a global climate trend, no one can deny the pattern of extreme weather events.

Having been in the business of sustainability for a long time, I’ve believe that the earth is a living system and can’t help but respond to all the changes humans are making; rainforest burning, water and air pollution, exchanging trees for concrete, mountain top removal, etc. In physics, for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction. Extreme weather is but one reaction to the global changes humans are making.

I know a lot of people aren’t convinced. Calling climate change “Global Weirding” may be part of the answer. It’s much harder to deny the evidence for “Global Weirding” when 2 feet of snow just fell in your backyard the weekend before Halloween. After finally getting in touch with my in laws, they said that they definitely think it’s global weirding and most of their neighbors had that “aha” moment too. So, if you realize that changes in the world’s weather are happening at an ever increasing rate and want to take action to do something about it, contact us here at Wilmot.