Baltimore—On the heels of a summer that saw many parts of the country hit by record heat, severe storms and damaging floods, a new Environment Maryland report documents how global warming could lead to extreme weather events becoming even more common in the future. The report also highlighted recent extreme weather events that have impacted Maryland, such as this past winter’s severe snowstorms. February’s snowmageddon blanketed Maryland with more than four feet of snow, making last winter the snowiest ever recorded. Other extreme weather events have also had high costs, like the $4 billion in damage from Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
“The burial in snow last winter and Hurricane Isabel are just two examples of how extreme weather causes extremely big problems for Maryland’s economy and our public safety,” said Jon Wong, Environment Maryland’s Campaign Associate. “Given that unchecked global warming would likely fuel even more severe weather, we need to start cutting global warming pollution now.”
The new report, entitled Global Warming and Extreme Weather: The Science, the Forecast, and the Impacts on America, details the latest science linking global warming to hurricanes, coastal storms, extreme precipitation, wildfires and heat waves. The report also summarized some of the most damaging recent weather events nationally, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The science shows that a warming world means more intense rainstorms with more time between them, resulting in both more frequent droughts and more frequent floods. The combination is tough on our infrastructure, and recent satellite observations show that it seems to be tough on the plant world has well,” said Dr. Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, a University of Maryland atmospheric scientist.
The report was released as Congress considers several bills to let polluters off the hook by blocking global warming pollution standards for some of the largest pollution sources. At the same time, the Obama administration is poised to advance new fuel economy and global warming pollution standards for cars and trucks—standards that would achieve substantial reductions in global warming pollution while also cutting oil use and saving consumers money at the gas pump. Environment Maryland urged the Obama administration to enact standards for cars and trucks that will ensure the average new car can travel 60 miles on a gallon of gas by 2025.
“We have all of the answers that we need to be successful. It is not a question of do we know what to do, it is a question of will we do what we know we must do,” said Jason Jannati, founder of greeNEWit, an energy efficiency contractor.
“Using American ingenuity to make our cars and trucks go farther on a gallon of gas is one of the easiest ways to cut global warming pollution and thus decrease the threat of severe weather, all while saving Marylanders money at the pump and slashing our oil use,” said Wong. “We applauded the Obama administration for the clean car standards they issued earlier this year, and we hope the President seizes the opportunity to realize even greater benefits with this next round of standards.”
Wong noted that while no single event can be entirely attributed to global warming, a warming climate is increasing the odds of more extreme weather. Each weather event arises from a combination of short-term weather patterns and long-term climatic trends, and global warming “loads the dice” for severe weather.
“Today’s report shows how both the record-setting snowfall and Hurricane Isabel are just a taste of what is likely to come for Maryland unless we tackle global warming,” said Wong.
Key findings from the Environment Maryland report include:
• Scientists project that global warming may bring fewer—but more intense—hurricanes worldwide, and that the number of intense Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic may nearly double over the course of the next century. Estimated damages from the seven most costly hurricanes to strike the U.S. since 2005 exceed $200 billion.
• Global warming is projected to bring more frequent heavy downpours and snowfalls, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. Already, the number of heavy precipitation events in the United States increased 24 percent between 1948 and 2006, helping to make flooding the most common weather-related disaster in the U.S. Recent years have seen a string of incredibly destructive floods and snowstorms, including the 2008 Midwest flood that caused $8 to $10 billion in damage and the largest ever snowfall in 2010 that cost the East Coast more than $2 billion.
• Heat waves are projected to be more frequent, more intense, and last longer due to global warming. Heat waves are among the most lethal of extreme weather events, as illustrated by a 2006 heat wave that affected the entire contiguous United States and was blamed for at least 147 deaths in California and another 140 deaths in New York City.