The simple graphics — originally created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins — leave a striking visual impression. In general, the bars transition from cool deep blues and azures on the left to warm yellows, oranges and even reds on the right. Each vertical stripe represents a year, its color corresponding to temperature anomalies. It’s an easily accessible way to convey an alarming trend.
“On Friday, television meteorologists will unite once again to communicate a consensus on the science of climate change,” wrote Jeff Berardelli, climate change contributor to CBS News and founder of MetsUnite.
It’s the second time MetsUnite has appealed to weather broadcasters for this mission. By spreading the message through trusted local messengers, Berardelli said he hopes to bridge the gap on a topic that, in recent years, has divided Americans.
“Too often climate change is viewed as a partisan topic when in reality, it’s not,” Berardelli said. “Science is not left or right. It’s simply factual.”
These graphics aren’t based on future projections or model assumptions; it’s objective data that already has occurred. It’s the equivalent of sticking a thermometer outside and taking observations over a long period of time.
“The warming stripes are simple, easy to understand yet compelling visuals,” Berardelli said.
It’s part of a team-up with Climate Central, a nonprofit that specializes in preparing and creating data-driven climate graphics for broadcast use.
You can check out your area’s stripes here, where hundreds of charts are available for use. Most date to 1895, half a century after the peak of the Industrial Revolution.
Stripe sets showing the fingerprint of human-driven climate warming across the world are also available for international locations. While some features — like the “severe winter in Europe” of 1941 to 1942 — stand out, warming tendencies are plain as day. It’s also worth noting the impressive period of accelerated warming in the past two and a half decades, which has outpaced that of the prior century and caused the mercury to spike at breakneck pace.
Graphics for Maryland, Virginia and the District tell the tale in the Mid-Atlantic. In Washington — which has spiked more than a degree and a half since 1970 — the textbook pattern emerges ominously. And while the District’s growing season has climbed by two weeks within the span of one generation, it belies an underlying danger posed by climate’s manifestation in the weather.
Elsewhere around the country, stripe patterns tell many stories.
In Alaska, rapid melting of the permafrost and climatic shifts are taking place over years instead of decades. In more-moist areas, like Florida, the pace of warming is a bit more manageable. And in the desert Southwest, places like Arizona are already sweltering — potentially facing a crisis in the coming years as the heat becomes increasingly inhospitable.
Wondering what the stripes might look like in the future? Alexander Radtke created the graphic above showing stripes projected to 2200 based on various scenarios. They tend to run from warm to torching and paint a potentially unsettling picture of the future. More details on this can be found on his site.
If you happen to glance upon a set of climate stripes, pause and give it some thought. The colorful bars really do mean something.