Derechos, or ‘land hurricanes’, are laying siege to the country. Derechos don’t come from the ocean like regular hurricanes but are huge, fast-moving windstorms, accompanied by thunderstorms. Their winds are tossing trees around like confetti, killing people—at least 13 so far—in cars, homes, tents, as well as snapping power lines as if they were toothpicks. Over 3 million people are currently without power as a result of the weekend’s weather.
One derecho formed outside of Chicago on Friday and wreaked havoc from there to Washington, D.C. in just 13 hours. Then the east coast was hit again on Saturday with a second line of violent storms.
Tom Kines, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.com, described how Friday’s mighty conflagration was set off. “There were a few ingredients that fell into place at the same time. First off, the record heat – it was around 100 F on Friday. Then there was the humidity. On top of that, there was also a small piece of energy in the upper atmosphere. To get a storm like that everything has to be perfect—and on Friday, everything fell into place.” He added, “A lot of us won’t see something like that again in our lifetimes—it was pretty special.”
Sounds reassuring, if only Kines had stopped there, but he continued by saying that, with the unusually hot weather expected to continue for 7 to 10 days, another storm like Friday’s is a possibility. Plus, “if indeed we are seeing global warming, then it will certainly increase the risk of something like this happening again.”
Another meteorologist, Daniel Porter with the National Weather Service, painted a picture of how vast the unusual weather circumstances are. “You could draw a line from Denver to St. Louis to Washington, D.C. All those areas are in the hundreds right now,” he said, adding that the intense heat is hampering the recovery process.
But are these severe events the result of climate change? Obviously there are those who want to deny that as a factor—or even that it exists. However, National Public Radio uses a widget to keep track of and publicize record-breaking high temperatures. On just Friday, June 29th, 63 records for high temperatures were set. For the month of June, 717 were set. For the year 2012 so far, 3,792 have been set, with no region of the country being spared. According to data from the National Climatic Data Center, the number of broken records has steadily climbed every year since 2006, although 2007 actually leapfrogged into second place behind 2011.
Why should we care about these statistics? As someone from Phoenix, a city that has been regularly swallowed by haboobs (giant wind and duststorms that sweep in from the desert), and someone who, having lived in the desert for over 30 years, never heard of a haboob until a couple of years ago, I have to ask myself why anyone from Arizona would vote for a candidate who denies climate change. Why would anyone in the country vote for someone who is going to sit on his hands and not try to address the problem?
The recent onslaught of hurricanes and tornadoes destroying cities in the Gulf states, of wildfires devastating western forests, and of derechos racing through the heartland, flattening everything before them, is horrifying and beyond alarming. Which of our politicians are alarmed? Or who in the general population? Will most of us wait for our own homes, towns, or states to be destroyed before doing anything? Or will we use the vote to install officials who care and are poised to take action? The decision, and our fate, are up to us, folks.