Hotter days: does our planet have a fever?

Solar flare composite image by NASA / JAXA

The world did not end in 2012. There was no magnetic pole reversal or solar flare catastrophe. But for one country at least, 2012 was a marked year of solar intensity and extreme weather. The United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) experienced its warmest year, by far, in 2012 since records began 118 years ago says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). NOAA scientists also say the new record significantly sets itself apart from the rest of the data, breaking the last record set in 1998 by a full degree versus the much more typical fractions of a degree. Higher temperatures translate to extreme weather as both record years are also tagged as the United States’ two most extreme weather years.

By comparison, 2012 ranks only as the eighth warmest year across the planet in a data record stretching back 133 years. Still, earth’s top ten warmest years all occurred in the last 12 years time indicating that our current warmer climate is a trend and one that is here to stay.

The question of whether the change is due to human activity or not may never be answered. But at 7 billion strong, human impacts can’t be ruled out; I mean, if tiny cyanobacteria can oxygenate the atmosphere in an astoundingly meaningful way (we would all suffocate otherwise), the signficant CO2 we pump into the atmosphere likely has a profound impact on the biosphere. Regardless, the question of whether our climate is changing or not seems unequivocally answered. The planet is running a high temperature.

So far in 2013, the southern hemisphere painfully proves the point. New South Wales, Australia began the new year with a record heat wave spanning seven straight days averaging more than 102º F (39º C). The new record is easily longer and broader in area than the previous record. Feeding upon itself, temperatures on the last day of the heat wave set another record for the hottest average temperature across Australia at 104.6º F (40.33º C).

Australian Bureau of Meterology forecast temperature for January 13, 2013

Australian Bureau of Meteorology temperature forecast for January 13, 2013

In response to the new normal, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology increased its temperature range by 7º F (4º C) to include a new max temperature of 129º F (54º C). Two new corresponding shades of purple were also added. The new hues are already being used to forecast temperatures at Australia’s interior.

2013 Raging fires, photo by Dean Lewins / EPA

2013 Raging fires, photo by Dean Lewins / EPA

Combined with low rainfall New South Wales faced the highest ‘fire-danger’ rating possible–catastrophic. So far, more than 1300 square miles of land burned ferociously in what some are describing as tornadoes of fire. Bats, suffering from heat stroke, are falling from the sky. Gasoline is evaporating at the pumps. Roads are melting. Forget solar flare catastrophes. Austrageddon is happening now.

The record heat wave is the latest extreme in a string of extreme weather events. In 2011, Australia ended its decade-long drought with two years of heavy rain and flooding. And in 2013, the pendulum has swung again.

Like the chemical imbalance that mysteriously triggers one day in people with bipolar disorder, the warmer global temperatures seem to trigger a similar imbalance in our delicate weather system. Having breached a critical threshold, the weather now swings between two distinct polar ends of manic heat and drought conditions to depressing rain and flood conditions.

Left untreated the cycles will presumably become more erratic and more severe until perhaps nature will have solved its own problem; if indeed human activity exacerbates global warming, nature is on course for disrupting and taking civilization, as we know it, out of the picture. Everywhere civilization will either burn to a crisp or drown in a great deluge.

Hobbit homes in New Zealand, photo from freshome.com

Hobbit homes in New Zealand, photo from freshome.com

As a species, we will survive such a bleak scenario, having adopted and moved underground long before the worst of it. When it’s safe to surface again, it will be the start of a new civilization, one that won’t forget to include nature in its design. Hobbit-like homes cut into grassy hills, powered naturally by the sun and the wind will sprout up all over the globe. People will eat locally grown food and bike or walk to work (alright maybe the last bit is just me dreaming of commuteless mornings).

2013 is so far every bit the turbulent, changing year that December 21, 2012 seemed to foreshadow. Stay tuned for more.

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