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Sunrise, Sunset / Sunrise, Sunset / Swiftly Fly the Years

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 12:01 AM GMT on January 02, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset / Sunrise, Sunset / Swiftly Fly the Years

Here’s an easy prediction for 2015. When we arrive at March 1, 2015, it will have been 30 years since there was a month where the global average surface temperature was below the 20th century average. We are creatures who like our milestones in years and decades and numbers divisible by 5, 10, 25 and 50 (like our currency), and a 30 year average is the definition of climate in the standard of climate as the average weather. The National Climatic Data Center goes to some effort to strictly define “normal” in terms of 30-year averages. With the arrival of March 1, 2015, all of the months used in the calculation of current climate will have been warmer than the climate of my youth, the previous generation, our grandparent’s generation, Howard Taft’s, Teddy Roosevelt’s, indeed, Benjamin Harrison’s. You might recall that in my unfashionable way, I objected to calling the 30-year average that ended in 2010 the “new” normal, because of the intuitive notion that normal is, well, what we might expect. And what we might expect is that the temperature will continue to rise, and not stay the same as the previous 30 years.

Despite it being -14 F in my backyard a couple of days ago, in the middle of January we are very likely to receive the confirmation from NOAA that 2014 was, globally, the warmest year recorded. We’ve seen this coming for a while, and it will be briefly news. NBC has already said that it is officially the warmest year on record. There’s even a video of Tom Karl, briefly dealing with the subject of last week’s blog on ocean versus atmosphere as a measure of climate.

The planet will continue to heat up for as long as anyone reading this blog will be alive. One decade following another, each one warmer than the last. While writing the blogs this year, it has become far more apparent to me the irreversible path that we are on. The heat that we are accumulating is spreading throughout the Earth. The oceans are warming and ice is melting. The heat is creeping along, and it really can’t be stopped. The rise in temperature is almost incidental to the scale of these changes in the global environment. The changes are occurring fast enough that it makes sense to use them in personal planning: where you live, where you build, how you build. You can use the information to make yourself more secure. This includes placing yourselves in positions of influence, even power, to make your communities and cities more secure.

I wrote in a very early blog about do we require catastrophe before we take action on climate change? The answer is yes, at some level. Our vulnerabilities to weather will continue to change as the temperature warms, ice melts, sea level rises and the weather changes. There will be catastrophes, and it will be our responses to these catastrophes that determine how we cope with climate change. Do we rebuild in the same places in the same ways? Do we continue to manage the land and water with the same rules and tactics? Ultimately, do we learn from the early catastrophes so that we develop a systematic, knowledge-based resilience for the future?

I believe that in the collective, we can adapt to climate change. We are adaptive and innovative creatures. We have adapted to many things in the past. We don’t adapt without disruption. We don’t adapt with constant growth and improving standards of living. What we will have to learn is how to adapt when the climate is changing; we will have to build that change into our planning and execution. The skill to plan to change is something that some do well, some do not, but the ability to do it well will become more and more essential. It is a skill that can be taught and learned.

I am happy to report that in another theme that I have followed over the years, North Carolina’s approach to sea-level rise, that the answer is coming. There is a draft report by the Coastal Resources Commission, which is headed out to review. The report is, by mandate, limited to 30 years, but given how this all started, the article in the News and Observer is practically promising. The report looks at spatial variability, with a rise by 2045 of order of 12 inches in the northern part of the state. And here is the most promising statement from the News and Observer:

“In its new report, the North Carolina science panel shows what will happen if the rate of sea-level rise is unchanged over the next 30 years: an increase ranging from about 2.4 inches at Southport to about 5.4 inches at Duck.

But the report does not endorse this prospect. It focuses instead on the likelihood that the seas will rise faster and faster in coming years. The forecast is based on a range between two different scenarios, laid out in international climate change reports, for mild or heavy greenhouse gas emissions.”

Planning on a 30-year time frame, with knowledge-based numbers, and recognition that at 30 years sea-level rise doesn’t just stop – flirting with rational.

So, 2015 will see unpleasant politics in the U.S. and climate-world gearing up for the 2015 Conference of Parties in Paris. And I hope some growth in our Applied Climate Program.

Thanks for reading and here’s to next year’s successes,


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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.