Even if you’ve enjoyed a break from the latest news while on summer vacation, you’ve likely felt the headlines: All around the world, we’re continuing to experience truly cataclysmal weather. It’s hotter, rainier and drier than ever before.
Uruguay is facing its worst drought in 74 years, according to Reuters. The extremely low rainfall has forced authorities to tap a saltier part of the Santa Lucia, a river that supplies most of the country’s drinking water. This has left tap water undrinkable for many people and led to protests in the capital.
India and Japan are experiencing the opposite problem, with intense rainfall causing deadly flash floods and mudslides, CNN reports. New Delhi recorded its wettest July in more than 40 years. And some areas of Japan have been hit with more than 23.6 inches of rain — more than they would typically expect for the whole month of July.
Also in India, nearly 100 people died last month from heat waves. Likewise, temps here in the United States will climb to 130 degrees this week in parts of the Southwest, with 111 million people under extreme heat advisories, watches and warnings. But beyond the magnitude of the heat — which has been enough to establish scores of new records — temperatures are remarkable for their duration. For example, as I write this, Phoenix has logged 13 consecutive days at or above 110 degrees.
The Washington Post explains, “The warmer the air, the more water it can hold — turning the atmosphere into a thirsty sponge that sucks moisture out of vegetation and soil. This exacerbates droughts and sets the stage for wildfires like those that have ravaged Canada this summer.” This trend also leads to wetter storms, like the kind that have just devastated Vermont. Earlier this week, up to nine inches of rain fell in just two days, displacing thousands of residents and requiring more than 200 rescues.
“Excessive heat kills far more Americans annually than do hurricanes and tornadoes combined and disproportionately affects the elderly, the poor and other systemically vulnerable populations,” The Post article notes. As one reporter put it: “It’s as if every alarm bell on Earth were ringing.”
Don’t hit snooze; act now
Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the Imperial College London, urges: “This is not the new normal. ... We don’t know what the new normal is. The new normal will be what it is once we stop burning fossil fuels … and we’re nowhere near doing that.” She continues: “What might have been a balmy day without climate change is now a deadly heat wave. What was once a typical summer thunderstorm is now the cause of a catastrophic flood.”
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