2021's weather disasters brought home the reality of climate change
Heat waves. Floods. Megadroughts. This year’s weather showed us that climate change is here—and deadly.
From punishing heat in North America to record-breaking floods in Europe and Asia, this year’s weather showed us what it looks like to live in a world that has warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) over the past century.
“Dangerous climate change is already here. That’s a harsh reality we need to recognize,” says Michael Wehner, an extreme weather researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Extreme weather is already taking homes, businesses, and lives. Canada’s recent floods may be the most expensive in the country’s history, potentially costing an estimated $7.5 billion. The 18 weather disasters that hit the United States in 2021 together cost more than $100 billion, according to the most recent estimates.
In August, Wehner and other scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report indicating they were now more confident than ever that climate change is influencing the world’s worst weather events, including these five.
Pacific Northwest heatwave
The Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada—a region that supports some 13 million people is known for rainy, mild weather—experienced deadly heat this summer. Major cities such as Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, where many residents lack air conditioning, saw historically high temperatures that surpassed 100°F (38°C).
The intense heat resulted from a weather phenomenon called a heat dome, in which an area of high pressure acts like a lid on a pot and keeps heat trapped over a specific region.
Research on the heatwave found that its intensity would have been “virtually impossible” without the planet-warming greenhouse gases that have been emitted into the atmosphere over the past 120 years.
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