When Nature Strikes Back

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When nature strikes back! From global warming & climate change to hurricanes & floods, this is what Mother Earth is capable of.

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Voiceover by Carl Mason: [email protected]

While the conversation on global warming has been somewhat polarizing, the vast majority of the global scientific community has reached a consensus regarding its impact. Human activity, namely greenhouse gas emission, is often cited as a major contributor to the global rise in temperature. One of the ways nature has struck back, when it comes to climate change, is through more frequent and more intense instances of extreme weather. A 2018 report has found that, ever since 1970, the increase in greenhouse gases has contributed to the increase of hurricane activity in the Atlantic. The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in recorded history. In recent years, there’s been increased occurrence of category 5 hurricanes. In the past, these disastrous events would’ve typically taken place once every one hundred years. In the 21st century, they’re sometimes separated by less than a decade. These storms are also getting more intense, to such a degree, that there’s an argument for creating a 6th hurricane category. The wind and precipitation intensity of tropical cyclones have been analyzed in connection to the environmental sea surface temperatures (or SST). Scientists have observed a connection between elevated SST and the largest tropical cyclones. Man-made global warming is one of the main reasons why in many areas the SST is increasing and thus, producing devastating storms.

Wildfires are another example of nature’s fury, partly fueled by climate change. Few areas have been as affected in recent years as the state of California. Over the past century, the region has warmed by over 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to the global average of approximately 1 degree. It’s worth mentioning that frequent fires are not unusual in the area. That being said, over 20 of the largest fires in the state’s history have occurred since the year 2000. A number of scientists have argued that this is a consequence of global warming since hotter air means drier plants, which burn more readily. The climate-changed air is more effective at drying vegetation than it was a century ago. To make matters worse, climate change may have affected autumn wind patterns which play a major role in spreading the fires. In the fall and winter, offshore winds flow across the state. As this happens, dry air cascades down large mountain ranges, like the Sierras. The downward flow gets channeled into valleys and canyons, thus picking up speed. As these winds pass over flames they carry them, often yielding devastating results. A faulty electric transmission line ignited the blaze and the east wind carried it downhill towards developed areas. The fire covered an area of almost 240 square miles, generated roughly $16.5 billion in total property damage and claimed at least 85 lives. The 2018 California wildfire season was unprecedented in destruction. The ongoing 2019 season got off to a relatively slow start but intensified as winds picked up.

While fire is a prevalent problem in some parts of the world, other regions are deeply affected by flooding. Like others on our list, these natural disasters have also been exacerbated by climate change. The monsoon season in India usually lasts from June to September. During this time, southwestern winds pick up moisture from the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. By mid-autumn and early winter, the winds begin to shift and blow from the other direction. It’s a seasonal cycle that’s being disrupted by climate change as India’s starting to experience an increase in extreme weather events. The country’s essentially alternating between drought and flood. There are phases of insufficient rainfall which are followed by heavy rains. In 2019, the country experienced intense heat waves as the monsoon arrived late and with extreme rainfall. Over the course of a few days, several areas were covered in knee-deep water. It was the heaviest monsoon that India had seen in the past quarter of a century. The floods it unleashed affected 13 states and over 1 million people were displaced.

Over the past centuries, global deforestation has been steadily increasing, with some devastating consequences. According to recent estimates, roughly 50,000 square miles of forest are being cut down each year. As a result, mudslides have become more frequent and more devastating. On steep slopes the trees, plants and shrubs have roots which help keep the land in place. They basically act as barriers and slow down or prevent mudslides. In many places, all over the world, human activity has removed the vegetation via logging, clearing for agriculture, mining as well as urban or rural expansion.

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