climate change and bad luck gave us extreme weather of august 2020

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MOST OF US NEVER HEARD OF “DRY LIGHTNING” until recently. It is cloud-to-ground lightning without any nearby rainfall. A dry lightning storm over Mitchell’s Cove in Santa Cruz, California, caused more than 10,000 bursts of lightning between August 15 and August 19, 2020, which in turn set off devastating wildfires across California. According to climate scientist Daniel Swain, of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, that is ‘an unbelievable number to say out loud, even in the last few years.” Which is, alas, more than mere bad luck.

The phenomenon and others are addressed in “What’s behind August 2020’s extreme weather? Climate change and bad luck” by Carolyn Gramling for Science News (August 27, 2020). The subtitle to her piece is “The month of August alone has brought hurricanes, wildfires and a derecho.” Gramling introduces her article with these paragraphs:

“August 2020 has been a devastating month across large swaths of the United States: As powerful Hurricane Laura barreled into the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 27, fires continued to blaze in California. Meanwhile, farmers are still assessing widespread damage to crops in the Midwest following an August 10 derecho, a sudden, hurricane-force windstorm.

Each of these extreme weather events was the result of a particular set of atmospheric—and in the case of Laura, oceanic—conditions. In part, it’s just bad luck that the United States is being slammed with these events back-to-back-to-back. But for some of these events, such as intense hurricanes and more frequent wildfires, scientists have long warned that climate change has been setting the stage for disaster.”

The author also mentions a derecho that struck the midwestern United States on August 10. The word derecho is from Spanish and roughly translates as ‘straight ahead.’

“These storms have winds rivaling the strength of a hurricane or tornado but push forward in one direction instead of rotating. By definition, a derecho produces sustained winds similar to the fury of tropical-storm-force winds), nearly continuously for at least 400 kilometers. The August derecho flattened millions of hectares of crops, uprooted trees, damaged homes, flipped trucks, and left hundreds of thousands of people without power.”

To read this article in its entirety, click HERE.


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FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of dry lightning over Mitchell’s Cove in Santa Cruz, California. It was part of a rare and severe storm system that triggered wildfires across the state. This photo was taken on August 16, 2020, by Samuel Thaler for The Santa Cruz Sentinel via the Associated Press.


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