Going to Extremes

The extremes just keep coming in the weather world. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released precipitation figures for March to May 2011 at the county and state level. What does the information mean? Well, each number on that state map shows where the state’s precipitation this spring fell in relation to the past 117 years of data: 1 means record driest, 117 means record wettest. With 117 years of data, you wouldn’t expect very many states to set a record in a single year, would you? Well this year, ten states did: Texas had its driest year on record, and nine states had their wettest. Three other states had their second-wettest spring ever, and New Mexico had its third-driest spring. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground summed it up nicely, “There’s never been a spring this extreme for combined wet and dry extremes in the U.S. since record keeping began over a century ago.”

And it’s not just here. Britain’s Guardian reports this week that Scotland just finished a record wet may, while parts of England have had spring rainfall totals more at home in the Sahara, amidst a heat wave and drought that extends over much of western Europe. China also experienced a 100-year drought this year, whereas Australia is still recovering from record floods. While La Niña is probably partly to blame, this year’s events are also consistent with the conditions researchers project are coming with climate change.

“There’s never been a spring this extreme for combined wet and dry extremes in the U.S. since record keeping began over a century ago.”

How are policymakers responding to this? Unfortunately, by going to some extremes of their own. Not content to simply avoid addressing the root causes of climate change pollution, some in Congress are now trying to prevent the government from even preparing for and responding to the impacts of climate change.  Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to strip funding for climate change preparation from the Department of Homeland Security – that’s the department that includes FEMA, our main federal responders to climate-related disasters, and the Coast Guard. And just last week, they did the same thing to the USDA. You read that right — the Department of Agriculture. Because unprecedented fires, floods, tornadoes, droughts and extreme temperatures couldn’t possibly have any effect on our food supply, could they?

These weather extremes should be treated as the serious and threatening events they are, and should also serve as a warning of what is to come. Our government should be taking steps to prepare us for an uncertain future, instead of pretending it’s all blue skies ahead.

Learn more:

See how Defenders is working to protect wildlife and natural places from the harmful effects of climate change.

Read more about how moves by Congress to eliminate climate change-preparation measures threatens our nation’s security.