Forecasting the Unpredictable: Severe Weather
By Avery Farrell
You are awoken by an abrupt beam of sunlight peeking through your blinds. Reluctantly, you get out of bed and stretch to properly wake up. The last couple of days have been overcast, cold, and rainy. Surprised by the sun reaching its bright yellow arms for your window, you check the 7-day forecast on your phone and see a bright yellow sun icon with a high temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. That is all you needed to see- or that’s all you thought you needed to see. Your mood shifts as you hurry to grab your biking helmet, cycling shorts, and bicycle. As you’re enjoying your morning bike ride you notice ominous dark clouds following behind you. Minutes later it begins pouring. Unprepared and upset that your bike ride was unexpectedly halted by a rainstorm, you blame the app and the meteorologists.
Weather is a complex system that makes forecasting extremely challenging because the atmosphere is constantly changing. That explains why weather forecasts are more accurate for the first few days and get less accurate a week out. However, the weather forecast has even been notoriously inaccurate the day of.
Scientists are more confident in forecasting the climate because the climate is the average weather of a region over a long-term period of time. Climate forecasting is still complex, but scientists have come to a consensus that the climate is changing due to human-induced activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
The increase in global temperature is magnifying the intensity and frequency of severe weather events such as increased precipitation, extreme heat events, droughts, and flooding. While these events are expected to increase in certain regions, scientists do not know exactly when or where they will occur. Regions across the United States will experience climate change at different rates, degrees, and frequencies. Despite annual global temperatures and severe weather events increasing, some areas may experience a decrease in flooding, droughts, heatwaves, and precipitation.
Hurricane activity seems to be cyclic with some decades experiencing more hurricanes than others. However, climate scientists have evidence to support that hurricanes are getting more intense due to rising sea temperatures and sea levels.
The relationship between climate change and severe thunderstorms is complicated. Severe thunderstorms can produce destructive elements such as strong winds, hail, and tornadoes. Additionally, severe thunderstorms can evolve into supercells and derechos, like the derecho that hit Maryland on June 29th, 2012. Severe thunderstorms are fueled by Convective Available Potential Energy, CAPE, and strong wind shear (NASA, 2013). These two factors are expected to change, as a result of climate change, in opposing ways that make it challenging to predict whether storms will increase in frequency. CAPE is expected to increase, while wind shear is expected to decrease with climate change. “One factor makes severe storms more likely, and the other makes them less so,” NASA says.
Understanding that rising global temperatures are affecting weather patterns in complex ways is the first step to being prepared for extreme weather events. Additionally, researching what weather events your area or region is susceptible to is an important step in understanding what type of events you should prepare for.
How to prepare for severe weather events will vary depending on the type of weather. There are various tools and resources online, like the CDC, that discuss the ways to prepare for different types of weather events. Some preparation strategies cover many types of severe weather. Here are some recommendations to be more prepared:
Have an Emergency Kit and First Aid Kit: Items in an emergency kit will differ for everyone. Emergency kits may include batteries, flashlights, medications, sensory items, and other important emergency supplies.
Have an Emergency Supply of Food and Water: An emergency supply of non-perishable food and water are necessary in case you can’t access these resources during an emergency weather event.
Have an Emergency Plan: Create an emergency plan based on your area’s weather hazards. An Emergency plan may include emergency meeting places, emergency contact information, evacuation information, and other important information. An emergency plan is a good way to keep all important information in one place.
Check the Weather: Check the forecast. Make sure to have alert notifications on your phone. Watch for weather advisories, watches, and warnings. Check the Radar.
Check-In On Your Neighbors: If you have the capacity to do so, check in on your neighbors and community members that may be vulnerable to severe weather events. Preparation for severe weather events depends on time, money, and resources. Some people may have limited access to these things.
Once you understand that rising global temperatures are affecting weather patterns, you’ll start to realize that the weather isn’t that unpredictable. Looking at climate patterns in your region will help you know what type of severe weather events your area may experience and help you prepare appropriately. Being aware and educating others on climate change, preparation, and severe weather can help save lives. So next time you want to go on a bike ride… make sure to bring a raincoat!
“Climate Change Indicators.” EPA, https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/weather-climate. Accessed 5 May 2022.
“How Can We Predict Future Climate Reliably When We Can’t Even Predict Next Week’s Weather Very Accurately?” EarthatHome, https://earthathome.org/quick-faqs/how-can-we-predict-future-climate-reliably-when-we-cant-even-predict-next-weeks-weather-very-accurately/#:~:text=Climate%20is%20also%20a%20complex,to%20predict%20climate%20than%20weather. Accessed 4 May 2022.
“Hurricanes and Climate Change.” C2ES, https://www.c2es.org/content/hurricanes-and-climate-change/. Accessed 5 May 2022.
“Prepare! Don’t Let Severe Weather Take You be Surprise.” NWS, https://www.weather.gov/safety/thunderstorm-prepare. Accessed 10 May 2022.
“Severe Thunderstorms and Climate Change.” NASA, 7 April 2013, https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/weather-climate. Accessed 4 May 2022.
“What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate.” NASA, 1 Feb. 2005, https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/noaa-n/climate/climate_weather.html. Accessed 3 May 2022.
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