Last year was punctuated by record extreme weather events, and climate scientists are saying to expect more of the same—and possibly worse—in 2022, as rapidly warming temperatures continue to exacerbate heat waves, wildfires, destructive storms and sea level rise. Today’s Climate is ringing in the new year by looking at how extreme weather is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives.
In December, the country saw a spate of bizarre winter weather, including hurricane-force gusts in nine different states and temperatures hitting record highs in some regions, soaring past 70 degrees Fahrenheit in cities like Omaha and Des Moines, the New York Times reported.
The weather has only become stranger in the last week. On Dec. 30, an urban firestorm blazed through Colorado’s Boulder County, destroying nearly 1,000 homes, businesses and other buildings as tens of thousands of residents evacuated, Colorado Public Radio reported. The fire, which engulfed suburban neighborhoods rather than densely forested rural towns, shocked many residents, who knew climate change was making wildfires in the state more common but didn’t think their own communities were at risk.
“The event this week will require everyone to expand their imaginations even further of what can happen here in Colorado,” Russ Schumacher, a meteorologist at Colorado State University and the Colorado state climatologist, told Axios.
In fact, wildfires were so widespread and intense last year that they spewed more than 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—a global record—according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
It’s not just fires that have raised eyebrows. A study by Christian Aid released in December found that 10 of 2021’s most extreme weather events in the world were driven by climate change and caused a total of $170.3 billion in damage. Among them, Hurricane Ida, which devastated the East Coast in late August, caused the most damage: a whopping $65 billion.
More major storms are likely coming. A study published last week in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Geoscience found that climate change will bring more hurricanes to New York and other midlatitude cities in the coming years.
Those studies are part of a growing body of research that shows how climate change is increasing the threat of extreme weather, often more severely and sooner than scientists have previously predicted. Last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth climate assessment report, which made clear that the extreme weather of 2021 was only a mild preview of the decades ahead.
“We see this signal in all regions,” a lead author of the IPCC report told our reporter Bob Berwyn. “No region is really spared from climate change.”
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Wildfires last year released 148 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the fossil fuels burned in the European Union in 2020, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.