Trenton, New Jersey—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 New Jersey 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 New Jersey, such as the powerful nor’easters that hit last March. The storms flooded rivers to near-record heights, caused two deaths, and left 157,000 people without power.
“This summer’s record-breaking heat, and this spring’s nor’easters were just two examples of how extreme weather causes extremely big problems for New Jersey’s economy and our public safety,” said Whitney Larsen, clean energy associate with Environment New Jersey. “Given that unchecked global warming will 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 2010’s nor’easter floods and extremely hot summer.
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 New Jersey 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.
“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 New Jerseyans money at the pump and slashing our oil use,” said Larsen.
Environment New Jersey was joined by Jim Miller of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Science at Rutgers University, Paul Falkowski, also of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Science at Rutgers, Assemblyman John F. McKeon, Chairman of the Assembly Environment Committee, Benjamin Horton from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and David Robinson from the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist at Rutgers University.
“The record temperatures that we experienced in New Jersey this summer has given us a glimpse of what we can expect in the future,” said Dr. Jim Miller of Rutgers University.
“I urge the Obama administration to set the bar high for the next generation of vehicles in the United States. The EPA is currently writing the regulations for the next phase of federal clean car standards that could reduce global warming pollution from vehicles by 108 million metric tons annually and save consumers $31.8 billion annually at the pump,” Assembly Environment Chairman John F. McKeon said. “New Jersey has been a leader in enacting clean car legislation and tackling greenhouse gas emissions and I look forward to similar legislation and standards at the federal level.”
Among other extreme weather events, the report highlighted how one of the nor’easters last March dropped over 6 inches of rain in some areas of New Jersey, causing the Raritan River to rise over 9 feet above flood level and forcing the evacuation of more than 400 residents. Before utility and emergency personnel could respond fully, another storm dumped several more inches of rain a few days later. In Perth Amboy, high tides washed away several homes and extra police officers had to be deployed to deter looters.
“Global sea-level rise is one of the more certain impacts of human induced global warming, although future projections of magnitude show marked variations. Given the large and growing concentration of population and economic activity in the coastal zone of New Jersey, as well as the importance of its coastal ecosystems, the potential impacts of sea-level rise elicit widespread concern,” said Dr. Benjamin Horton of the University of Pennsylvania.
In addition, the extreme heat and drought this past July and August has hurt our agricultural production. Fruit crops, like the peaches and blueberries for which New Jersey is known, are ripening weeks ahead of schedule due to the heat and drought. Crops like corn and hay will see yield declines of around 20%.
Larsen 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 the summer heat and March floods were just a taste of what is to come for New Jersey unless we tackle global warming,” said Larsen.
Key findings from the Environment New Jersey report include:
• Sea level at many locations along the East Coast has been rising at a rate of nearly 1 foot per century due to the expansion of sea water as it has warmed and due to the melting of glaciers. In the Mid-Atlantic region alone, at least 900,000 people live in areas that would be threatened by a 3.3 foot (1 meter) rise in sea level.
• 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 2010’s “Snowmaggedon” 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.
Environment New Jersey is a state-wide, citizen-based, environmental advocacy organization that represents over 20,000 citizen members and works for clean air, clean water, and open space.