Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Past is Not Prologue

The current issue of National Geographic has an excellent article (Weather Gone Wild) by Peter Miller.  It is a must read - - a global tour of what's up with the weather.  From drought to record cold to extreme flooding.  Engineering in the future must start to take into consideration the extreme nature of our changing climate.  The science is clear - - the atmosphere is getting warmer and wetter.  Those two trends, which are clear in data averaged globally and annually, are increasing the chances of heat waves, heavy rains, and perhaps other extreme weather.

Big money is increasingly at stake in a world of extreme weather related natural disasters.  Consider this observation from the article:

The economic significance of this hasn't been lost on the insurance industry.  Insured losses from natural disasters in the U.S. last year totaled nearly $36 billion, 50 percent higher than the average during the previous decade.  "Whether it's the "new normal" or not, the industry sees a pattern of losses that's extraordinary," says Frank Nutter of Reinsurance Association of America.  "The past is not prologue to the type of weather we're to see."

You can debate La Nina or El Nino or volcanoes or sun spots or whatever - - all of these are a factor in recent extreme weather events.  But global warming has aggravated the situation making bad heat waves even worse. 

Watch the NASA animation showing the distribution of summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere.  The data is clear - - we are seeing an increase in the mean temperature but also a greater possibility for extremes in temperatures around the increased mean.

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