Are Extreme Weather and Climate Change like a Baseball Player on Steroids?

That is the connection Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and cofounder of the Weather Underground, described climate change and its effect on extreme weather events like floods, droughts and heat waves in a recent PBS broadcast:

“They all tend to get increased when you have this extra energy in the atmosphere. I call it being on steroids … for the atmosphere.”

There is no question that 2011 was a “steroid year” for extreme weather events. From record breaking heat and droughts to blizzards, hurricanes, floods and tornados, we saw  12 weather disasters that each caused one billion dollars or more in damage.

While all the major news companies covered the individual extreme weather events, few of them covered the connection between the weather events and climate change.

One of the few mainstream companies that covered the climate influence was PBS. Their December 28th broadcast, “How 2011 Became a ‘Mind-Boggling’ Year of Extreme Weather” dives right into this issue.

To shed light on the connection between extreme weather events and climate change, PBS interviewed Jeff Masters and Kathryn Sullivan, Deputy Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Check Out the Broadcast:

In order to help prepare for extreme weather, American Rivers is working with communities to plan for the potential impacts of climate change like flooding and droughts.

By protecting and restoring  wetlands, forests, and rivers we can help to slow floods and provide clean water. Mimicking and restoring these natural defenses will give the river more room to spread out. Furthermore, wetlands act as natural sponges, storing and slowly releasing floodwaters after peak flood flows have passed.  

We can use water more efficiently at home, in factories, and on farms. And we can install green roofs, rain gardens, and green streets in our cities to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality, and lower temperatures. By working with communities to adopt more natural approaches we can save money, solve existing problems, and help to prepare for a future filled with more extreme events.

Unfortunately, studying the connection between climate change and extreme weather has slowed due to current political realities. The New York Times reminded us of this harsh reality last week.

In 2011, NOAA tried reorganizing their structure, creating a National Climate Service, which would have provided better climate forecasts, House Republicans blocked the request.

While NOAA does do research to understand the causes of extreme weather, the federal budget cuts are making it more challenging to allocate resources to programs like this.