Red Alert!  Weather Forecasts Are Going Off the Charts this Year 

With hot summer months fast approaching, Earth’s climate continues to veer into uncharted territory, reaching temperatures never seen before in human history.  Each of the last 10 months has been the hottest of its time, with September 2023 topping the previous monthly record by nearly 1 full degree F.  That’s practically a quantum leap when it comes to weather forecasting!  

A map of the united states

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Climate modelers can’t fully explain this abrupt surge in global temperatures.  An April 19 Washington Post article raises the possibility that the “recent hot streak might be a sign of a new climate era,” explaining that:

“… decades of uncontrolled fossil fuel burning and an El Niño climate pattern that emerged last June… have caused the planet to breach…  a feared warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.  Nearly 19,000 weather stations have notched record high temperatures since January 1, [2024].” 

The latest annual climate report from the World Meteorological Organization, released in March, also sounds the alarm:

“Never have we been so close – albeit on a temporary basis at the moment – to the 1.5° C lower limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” according to WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo. “The WMO community is sounding [this] Red Alert to the world.”

What happens next could determine whether climate change has indeed reached a tipping point, outpacing scientists’ forecasts, and whether it’s time to brace for even more unprecedented weather extremes.  

Here are nine “Red Alert” signals issued by climate forecasters – followed by one glimmer of hope!

  1. New England is on the Hot Seat
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New England is a pacesetter in this new global warming trend.  2023 was the region’s warmest year on record.  Then came the warmest winter on record in 2023-24.  Now this spring is producing even more weather records in a chronology dating back 129 years.  

Looking ahead to this summer, the National Weather Service expects a heat dome to set up over the center of the North American continent, just like it did last year.  That’s when a record 15 million hectares of Canadian forest caught fire, sending thick plumes of smoke over much of the United States.  Hot, stormy weather is likely to persist outside of the continental heat dome, with above-average temperatures blanketing the country from coast to coast.  

  1. Record Hurricane Season Coming?
A screen shot of a hurricane

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Source:  Colorado State University and FOX Weather graphic

Ocean waters off New England are some of the fastest-warming on Earth, according to the WMO climate report.  March marked the 12th consecutive month that water temperatures in the North Atlantic basin were record warm for that time of year.  As of early April, the strip of ocean where stronger Atlantic hurricanes form – spanning the Lesser Antilles to West Africa – already had heat content more typical of early July.  Sea surface temperatures have been running a full 5° F above normal.  Hurricanes feed on ocean waters when temperatures rise above 80° F. 

Making matters worse, ocean circulation patterns in the Pacific Ocean are switching this summer from El Niño to La Niña conditions; the latter trend favors more hurricane development in the Atlantic basin.  This combination of factors could set the stage for one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

Hurricane forecasters at Colorado State University are now projecting 23 named tropical storms through November of this year.  Eleven of these storms are expected to reach hurricane strength, with five turning into major hurricanes with wind speeds topping 110 mph.  This compares with an average Atlantic hurricane season of just 13 named tropical storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

  1. Ocean Temperature Rise is Off the Charts
A graph of the weather

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Source:  Climate Reanalyzer, University of Maine and Axios Visuals graphic

As of May 3, the ocean has been setting new daily temperature records for 416 days in a row, dating back to March 14, 2023.  These new records are smashing old ones by wide margins.  

The effects of this recent ocean warming have been dramatic and widespread.  Sea ice around Antarctica has shrunk to its smallest extent on record (since 1950).  Last season’s loss exceeded the record set in 2022 by 1 million square kilometers – equal to the size of France and Germany combined!

Just last week, ocean researchers also declared a global coral bleaching event — just the fourth in history — that could be on track to set its own record.  In 2023, more than 90% of the ocean experienced local heatwave conditions at some point during the year, putting nearly all coral reefs at risk.

  1. Glacial and Ice Sheet Melting

Graph illustrating the daily antarctic sea-ice extent from 1979 to 2023, with the 2023 extent showing a notable deviation from historical averages.

Source:  World Meteorological Organization, 2023 Climate Report

Melting of glaciers and ice sheets also continues to accelerate.  Earth’s two principal ice sheets – covering Greenland and Antarctica – have experienced their seven highest melt years since 2010.  More ominously, their average rate of melt loss has tripled over the last quarter-century.  This outflow now contributes 1 mm of global sea level rise every year.

  1. Loss of Arctic Sea Ice and Continental Glaciers
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Source:  World Meteorological Organization, 2023 Climate Report 

Arctic sea ice and continental glaciers are at risk of disappearing.  Arctic sea ice might soon shrink to the point where the fabled Northwest Passage is open to regular commercial shipping traffic during summer months.  

Landlocked glaciers are also losing mass and suffered record losses in the hydrological year 2022-2023.  Since the first decade of satellite measurements in 1993-2002, the observed rate of loss has doubled.  The European Alps lost 10% of their remaining volume in just the last two years, while glaciers in western North America lost 9% of their remaining volume since 2020.  The annual rate of glacial loss in North America has sped up five times over the last decade.  

  1. Sea Level is on the Rise
A plot showing global mean (average) sea level rising at an accelerated rate since satellites started tracking it in 1993

Thermal expansion of ocean waters is another dynamic force as sea surface temperatures rise.    Combining this factor with freshwater runoff from melting glaciers and ice sheets, the rate of sea level rise is now approaching 3.5 mm a year (or just over an inch per decade).  

  1. Coastal Flooding May Lead to Mass Migration
graph of future sea level rise pathways with different amounts of global warming

With further acceleration of these ocean trends, sea level rise could reach 3-7 feet by the end of the 21st century.  This would inundate many major coastal cities and possibly prompt the migration of hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

  1. Are We Approaching a Temperature Tipping Point?
Comparison of global mean temperature difference data sets from the 1850s to 2023 relative to the 1850-1900 average.

A common driver of these recent trends is a long-term rise in Earth’s atmospheric temperature.  The latest WMO climate report found that 2023 was the warmest year yet, with the global average near-surface temperature reaching 1.45 °C above pre-industrial levels (with a margin of uncertainty of ± 0.12 °C).  The last 10-year period was also the warmest decade on record, dating back to at least 1850.  Under the Paris climate accord, policymakers are trying to hold global temperatures below 1.5 °C of warming – fearing a rapid increase in environmental costs and human suffering once that level is breached.  

  1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Still Going Up
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The primary cause of this unfolding climate crisis is plain to see.  Observed concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – are still at record levels.  The long lifetime of these gases means that global temperatures will continue to rise for many years after their emissions decline.  

Despite longstanding efforts to control carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, they’re also rising at still near-record rates.  According to data released by NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, 2023 posted the fourth-highest annual rise in global CO2 levels, reaching 419 parts per million last December.  That’s about 50% more CO2 in the atmosphere than before the Industrial Revolution began around 1750.  As the planet warms further, climate scientists expect the land and ocean to absorb a smaller share of these manmade CO2 emissions, causing an even larger concentration in the atmosphere.

This compounds the need to cut these emissions quickly.  Scientists convened by the United Nations estimate that global CO2 emissions need to fall by 43% emissions by 2030 to stay on track with the long-term goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

But to do that, CO2 emissions through 2030 would need to fall at the same rate as they did during the coronavirus pandemic – which coincided with the greatest global economic crisis in more than a century.  Policymakers want to avoid repeating such a crash program; however, further delays may leave them little choice if they want to get these emissions under control.

  1.   A Glimmer of Hope
Emissions reductions by 2050

If there is one glimmer of hope in the 2023 WMO climate report, it’s that renewable capacity additions soared almost 50% in 2023, totaling 510 gigawatts (GW).  This is the highest observed rate of growth in two decades of commercial renewable energy development.  This recent surge – fueled primarily by solar, wind and hydropower – now positions these renewable resources as a leading force to help achieve long-term global decarbonization goals.

But while it’s true that renewable energy production is rising rapidly, so is global demand for energy.  At present, the part of the mix that doesn’t come from renewables still comes mainly from fossil fuels – which explains why global CO2 emissions remain at such record-high levels, despite a brief dip during the pandemic.

To mitigate rising costs of climate change, the WMO report stresses that investments in renewable energy must continue to grow rapidly.  From 2021 to 2022, global climate-related finance flows nearly doubled compared to 2019-2020 levelsreaching nearly $1.3 trillion in 2022But that still amounts to only about 1% of global GDP, underscoring a significant financing gap, according to the International Energy Agency.

To achieve the preferred goal of a 1.5°C pathway, annual climate finance investments need to rise more than sixfold, the IEA estimates, reaching almost $9 trillion by 2030, with an additional $10 trillion needed by 2050.  Such spending in the near term would keep the world on pace to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030, reaching 11,000 gigawatts of global clean power production in the next six years.  

While this represents a giant investment in carbon mitigation, the cost of inaction is far greater still, the 2023 WMO report points out.  Between 2025 and 2100, WMO estimates the cost of inaction would total a staggering $1,266 trillion in economic losses, representing the difference in economic growth between a business-as-usual scenario and a 1.5° C pathway.  Even this monstrous economic loss is likely to be a dramatic underestimate of the true cost of climate inaction, WMO concludes, because it does not capture losses to nature and biodiversity, and those affected by conflict and mass migration (among many other societal consequences).

In the final analysis, the human and economic cost of inaction only compounds the short-term cost of insufficient mitigation and inadequate climate adaptation.

Solaflect Energy is your Climate Action Partner

If you want to execute your own plan to fight climate change and cut down on your energy bills, Solaflect Energy can help.  For over a decade, we’ve installed sun-tracking solar arrays for residential and commercial use, and now offer affordable off-grid Solar EV Chargers for workplace EV charging.  For more information, email us or call (802) 649-3700.  Working together, we can make a difference in the fight against climate change, producing home-grown solar power right in our own communities!

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