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Wake Up Calls

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Extreme weather has made half of America look like Tornado Alley

COMMENT by reader.

"I am a government employee in Alaska and everyday I speak to the public about the effects of climate change on the environment here and in the homes of the people visiting.... In my job, I cannot get to the part of the conversation where I am talking about solving this problem with people because I spend all of my short time with them dispelling the confusion and myths they are reading/hearing in the news. We all took middle school science and know that correlation is not causation, we understand the underlying uncertainty of science. It is what makes it the truest form of understanding we have today. And yet nobody is going around questioning gravity. Climate change is the same. The science is there and the wishy-washy reporting to appease whichever political side of the argument you want money from is only wasting time that we do not have. The Midwest demographic is one of the most crucial groups of people who still need convinced that climate change is even real. They need to understand that these tornados are a direct impact of a warming planet and that they are RESPONSIBLE for preventing future disasters across the globe. We all are."

Climate change may be confounding the jet stream and making trouble for everyone.

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"Repair and cleaning efforts begin on a neighborhood damaged by a tornado system that destroyed
homes and cut off access to utilities on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)

By Joel Achenbach and Jason Samenow May 29

Interesting article, but why are our media entities and science writers so hesitant to declare firmly that climate change is the cause of our global issues?

Tornadoes have been popping up every day in the U.S. as if coming off an assembly line. They’re part of an explosion of extreme weather events, including record flooding, record cold and record heat.

.... All of which raises the question: Is this climate change, or just an unusually bad year?

For years, scientists have warned that climate change caused by human activity — primarily the burning of fossil fuels and the spike in atmospheric greenhouse gases — would make extreme weather events more likely. But tornadoes have never fit neatly into the climate change narrative. They’re eccentric and quirky. Until this year, the U.S. was in something of a tornado drought....

"So far this century, two years — 2008 and 2011 — jump off the charts, each with more than 2,000 reported tornadoes. This year, there have been nearly 1,000. The immediate driver of the violent weather is the jet stream, the powerful winds at high altitudes that sweep west to east across North America. The jet stream since May 14 has created conditions ripe for twisters....

“Every day, somewhere in the United States is getting pummeled by tornadoes and hail,” said Victor Gensini, a professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University.

There’s plenty of water in the mix, too. The Mississippi River is projected to reach 14 feet above flood stage in St. Louis, the second-highest on record. The river has been above flood stage at Vicksburg, Miss., since Feb. 17, the longest stretch of flooding since 1927, the year of the famed “Great Flood.” And the Arkansas River is rising rapidly and poised to approach record flood stages in Tulsa and other cities. There’s been too much rain and not enough places to put it.

Meanwhile it’s been so cold and wet in California that the ski resort of Mammoth has seen more than two feet of snow this month and may stay open until August.

In the usually broiling desert city of Phoenix on Memorial Day, the thermometer topped out at a pleasant 79 degrees, which is 19 degrees below average. The Deep South would love to be so lucky: Temperatures have hit 100 in many cities, breaking records. Savannah has hit 100 more times this year than Phoenix, something that’s never happened since people began tracking such things. The high of 102 degrees in Gainesville, Fla., on Monday was higher than any temperature ever recorded in May.

The jet stream shapes the high pressure and low pressure systems that control the weather in any given location. Normally it flows west to east in temperate latitudes in a fairly reliable manner. But lately it has fallen into a roller coaster pattern. It’s dipping, forming deep troughs. The result is weather that’s wildly different from west to east, with regions of extreme instability and too much drama.

Worse, the jet stream appears to be stuck in this sinuous pattern. The weather has become not merely extreme but also inert, stubborn, persistent, tiresome, tedious — pick your adjective. v Between the cold weather in the West and the heat wave in the Southeast lies a huge swath of the United States that’s primed for tornadoes.

“The jet stream is the thing that creates and steers individual storms and also sets up large-scale patterns. What we’re seeing now that’s so unusual is that the large-scale pattern, all the way from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic is stuck,” said Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center.

Francis believes there’s a climate change signal in the extreme weather, including the tornadoes. Extreme warmth in and around Alaska, along with the reduction of Arctic sea ice, affects the flow of the jet stream, she said. A blob of warm air, and high atmospheric pressure, near Alaska has been fingered by many meteorologists as a flashing red light that something is very different about climate these days......

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