GP Insights

GP Insights # 475, 21 February 2021

The US: Weather anomalies suggest a fast approaching climate change
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 15 February, The United States issued an alert regarding a winter storm that affected Southern and Central American states. The State of Texas is one of the worst affected regions with as many as five million people suffering from power outages for consecutive days. On 18 February, the White House reported that the sudden winter storm is the type of event that could be triggered by climate change. 

On 17 February, parts of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Israel were also hit by a winter storm that covered the cities in 10-15 centimetres of snow. It snowed for the first time in Southern Lebanon and Northeast Libya. The sudden downpour in many areas and snow was brought by the Gale Winds, an unusual and rare occurrence. 

On 18 February, the NASA Earth Observatory reported that the mid-February dust storm that crosses over Southern and Central Europe from the Sahara had materialized earlier than usual with increased intensity. 

On 20 February, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Texas and 77 counties.

What is the background?
First, the numerous weather anomalies. The recent winter storm is not the only proof that indicates the ever-changing global temperatures. The United States has been experiencing extreme hot winds and temperatures, leading to annual forest fires that continue to burn for months in the state of California. California has warmed by 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, causing the ecosystem to burn more rapidly. The changing ocean temperatures also affect the formation and behaviour of tropical cyclones. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change observes that cyclones will become more powerful in the coming years, gathering high speeds and heavier rains. 

Second, the weather changes across the globe - from the US to Australian, in the recent period. Strong and persistent winds from the Sahara covered the snow in parts of Europe in early February. The sight, although mesmerizing to look at, is a cause for concern. The rare phenomenon led to a degradation of the air quality in Europe and accelerated the advancing global warming.  The Amazon Rainforest that burns every consecutive year, destroyed an area as large as Israel in 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, over 18 million hectares were destroyed in the Australian bushfires, endangering the entire Koala population. Increasing temperatures have also caused rapid melting of glaciers resulting in flash floods in Uttarakhand and an upward trend in the frequency of cyclones in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

Third, linking winter storms to climate change. While many consider warming of the earth’s atmosphere, melting snow and rise and sea levels as the only side-effect of climate change, rapid change in weather patterns such as snowstorms are also related to the problem. The duration and severity of such storms are key factors that depict a shift in weather conditions. The winter storms that hit America and the Middle East this week are becoming more frequent and occur for a longer duration at a given time. Research suggests that the primary cause of the winter storm is the rise in temperature in the Arctic, affecting the jet stream that controls weather patterns around the world. 

What does it mean?
The issue of climate change crosses political and geographical boundaries. The issue cannot be resolved by individual countries acting in isolation and thus requires international cooperation and coordination. 

President Joe Biden, upon entering the White House, took major steps to address the issue of climate change, unlike his predecessor. US returned to the Paris Agreement and suspended various projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite the debate against green energy which failed to deliver during the winter storm, Biden Administration will most likely hasten its efforts in negotiating climate change at a global level and push for a shift towards non-conventional sources of generating energy.

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