As the longest tenured weatherman in South Florida, I’ve been fortunate to spend almost three decades delivering forecasts and lifesaving severe weather warnings to a large media audience, in two languages, including the last 10 years as chief meteorologist for NBC 6 in Miami.
My degree and applied practice in atmospheric sciences require me to have a deep understanding of the scientific method as well as physics and mathematics. I’m a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and can understand and scrutinize peer-reviewed literature in the fields of weather and climate.
There is an important distinction between climate and weather. Our climate, which represents long-term trends, is on a steady trajectory toward untenable warming. Our weather poses different threats.
For one, a warmer, wetter climate is linked to more-intense individual weather events. Hurricanes Florence, Michael, Irma, Harvey and Maria showed signs of having been supercharged by warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures as well as an atmosphere capable of sustaining more moisture, which led to record winds and record flooding. These events devastated families, crippled communities and killed hundreds.
Perhaps even more dangerous — at least in the long term — weather is misused and mischaracterized by people who choose to ignore the unequivocal warming of the planet or, worse, deny that it’s happening. In the process, they undermine efforts to keep people safe from catastrophic climate change. You’ve likely heard these skeptics point to cold days in an effort to cast doubt on climate change. They could not be more wrong.
Allow your weatherman to make a point crystal clear: Weather is the day-to-day variations in what we observe outside; climate is the long-term state of the world’s oceans and atmosphere.
Weather can turn on a dime, though those of us in my profession do our best to warn you in advance. Climate, however, follows trends across years and decades. Climate scientists have also been warning you in advance of how quickly and alarmingly it is changing.
Much was made about a recent report by a United Nations commission that illuminated the disastrous effects of a warmer world and the danger of filling our air with more greenhouse gases. More sobering news has followed: a U.S. government report stating that climate change has arrived and will harm virtually every part of our country and economy. We’ve also seen a record-setting year for carbon dioxide emissions globally.
Still, the recent news is not actually new. The warming trend has been evident for decades. We have known since the 19th century that greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere, threatening ecosystems, communities and our way of life.
What is new is that these reports encourage urgent action. Because we’ve waited too long to act on climate, our vulnerabilities are no longer calculated in generations or decades, but years.
Florida has seen the devastating impacts of major hurricanes. We can expect more. On our coasts and inland waterways, harmful blooms of blue-green algae and the red tide have suffocated marine life and strangled tourism and local economies.
Climate change has likely made those situations even worse. Entire ecosystems, such as the Everglades, are threatened. Risks of sea-level rise are starting to affect real estate prices across Miami, putting pressure on coastal property prices and leading to what some call “climate gentrification.”
Construction workers and farmers are increasingly at risk of overexposure to heat, chancing hospitalizations and even fatalities. I could go on.
How do we stem the warming of our world and the resulting consequences? One way is through communication. Communicate to friends and family — anyone who will listen — the urgency of action on climate. Communicate to elected officials — local, state and federal — that you demand they take serious action to combat this crisis.
Communicate with your consumer habits as well — lighten your carbon footprint, and don’t support companies that harm the environment.
In recent months, I’ve noticed another trend: a growing demand for immediate action. It makes me hopeful. Because that is the only trend that has the power to protect our communities and stop the unmistakable, undeniable trend of a warming world.