Severe Weather in the U.S. Fr. Seán McDonagh



Climate scientists tell us that one of the effects of global warming is that we can expect more and more severe weather events.  According to Dr. Richard Somerville, a professor emeritus of Scripps Institute of Oceanography, “all weather events are now influenced by climate change because all weather now develops in a different environment than before. Some types of extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. These include heat waves, heavy rain, floods, and droughts.  Climate change is increasing the odds that extreme weather will occur.”[1]

During the past year there has been unprecedented weather extremes in the United States.  Starting in January 2011, the massive blizzards brought cities such as Chicago to a standstill.   The cost to Chicago alone was in the region of $2 billion and 36 people lost their lives.  According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric administration in the United States (Noaa), there has been 10 major weather-related disasters in the first nine months of 2011.  700 people lost their lives and the property damage is estimated to have cost somewhere in the region of $35 billion.   46 tornadoes were recorded in both southern and Midwest states in the U.S. in early April 2011.    During the following week 59 tornadoes hit Midwest and North-east states.  Oklahoma and Pennsylvania were hit during the following week.  The damage from those three weather events is estimated at $6.5 billion.

In late April devastating storms swept through the South killing at least 60 people and spawning a tornado which cut through downtown Tuscaloosa. The twister flattened homes and other buildings and just missed a medical centre.

In May the Midwest and South-east were hit again by severe weather.   177 people were killed, many more were injured and the cost in terms of damage to property and clean-up calls reached $7 billion.

Heavy rain and melting ice caused the Mississippi to burst its banks and flood many farms, communities and towns in June 2011.  This is also an expected consequence of climate change.  Warm air holds more water vapour than cold air.  In the U.S. that led to record snowfalls in the winter of 2010 in the upper Midwest in places such as Minnesota and North Dakota  and record rainfall in the Spring of 2011.  Reporters Kick Jervis and Melanie Eversley  in an article on May 5th 2011 in  USA Today   wrote that the governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour,  who is a Republican asked the White House to declare 11 counties   a disaster areas in anticipation of flooding in places such as Vicksburg,   The designation of the area as a disaster allows communities to become eligible for Federal help with the relief effort.  Bob Anderson an Army Corps spokesperson based in Vicksburg, Mississippi said that  “there’s never been a flood of this magnitude on the upper Mississippi,” Anderson says. “It’s testing the outer limits of our system.”[2]

Fourteen states in the U.S. including Texas and Oklahoma also suffered a severe drought which many people are comparing it to the dust bowl years of the 1930s.   David Miskus, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, blames the strong La Niña because it stops moist air coming up from the from the South.[3]   But stronger La Niñas are also associated with the warming of the surface of the Pacific Ocean. In August, Hurricane Irene slammed into the Caribbean and the Eastern Coast of the U.S. and left extensive flood and wind damage in its wake.

In order to reduce the severity of future climate change scientists are telling us that we must make large reductions in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore we must do this within the next few years, otherwise it will be too late.

Despite an unprecedented increase in severe weather events and the clear evidence linking climate change to these events the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who is now seeking the Republican nomination for the presidential election in 2012, is a climate change denier.  His response to the drought was not to encourage people to restrict their carbon emissions, but to issue an official prayer for rain.  Sadly the governor is not helping religion. Such a spurning of overwhelming scientific evidence and a naive embracing of fundamentalist religion bring religion into disrepute.


[1][1]  Scientists Warn Extreme Weather Linked to Steroids of Climate Change

[2]  Rick Jervis and Melanie Eversley, “Flood dangers spread along the Mississippli” USA TODAY, June 5th 2011,


[3] Robert Johnson “ The Great Drought of 2011 is America’s Worst Since the Dust Bowl,”  Business Insider



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