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Freak weather predicted by climate science

'I told you so' time, analyst says

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WASHINGTON -- Is it just freakish weather or something more? Climate scientists suggest if you want a glimpse of some of the worst of global warming, take a look at U.S. weather in recent weeks.

Horrendous wildfires. Oppressive heat waves. Devastating droughts. Flooding from giant deluges. And a powerful freak wind storm called a derecho.

These are the kinds of extremes climate scientists have predicted will come with climate change, although it's far too early to say that is the cause. Nor will they say global warming is the reason 3,215 daily-high temperature records were set in the month of June.

Scientifically linking individual weather events to climate change takes intensive study, complicated mathematics, computer models and lots of time. Sometimes extreme weather isn't caused by global warming. Weather is always variable; freak things happen.

And this weather has been local. Europe, Asia and Africa aren't having similar disasters now, although they've had their own extreme events in recent years.

But since at least 1988, climate scientists have warned climate change would bring, in general, increased heat waves, more droughts, more sudden downpours, more widespread wildfires and worsening storms.

So far this year in the U.S., more than 2.1 million acres have burned in wildfires, more than 113 million people in the U.S. were in areas under extreme heat advisories on Friday, two-thirds of the country is experiencing drought, and earlier in June, deluges flooded Minnesota and Florida.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about."

Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in fire-charred Colorado, said these are the record-breaking conditions he predicted, but many people wouldn't listen. It's "I told you so" time, he said.

As recently as March, a special report on extreme events and disasters by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of "unprecedented extreme weather and climate events." Its lead author, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, said Monday, "It's really dramatic how many of the patterns that we've talked about as the expression of the extremes are hitting the U.S. right now."

"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs Prof. Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters."

Oppenheimer spoke Thursday, before the East Coast was hit with temperatures higher than 38 C and a derecho -- an unusually strong, long-lived and large straight-line wind storm -- blew through Chicago to Washington. The storm and its aftermath killed more than 20 people and left millions without electricity. Experts say it had energy readings five times that of normal thunderstorms.

Since Jan. 1, the U.S. has set more than 40,000 hot temperature records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2012 A9

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