Climate 101: How Climate Change Has Made the Weather Weird—and Dangerous

October 5, 2017


Not a Laughing Matter

Hey, have you heard the one about how climate change is just a hoax? Ha! Well, tell that to the residents of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. As scientists and fans of science all around the world have long known, climate change is real. And we’re feeling its effects right now. 

True, it can’t be said that massive hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and Maria are being CAUSED by climate change, but it’s definitely making them stronger and more destructive—and driving our weather to unprecedented extremes.


The Science Behind Climate Change

To understand how climate change is supercharging weather systems, it helps to understand how climate change actually works. Greenhouse gases (like CO2), the kind of stuff emitted when you burn coal and other fossil fuels, rise up into the atmosphere, where they can stay for a long time, even centuries. These gases absorb sunlight and solar radiation bouncing off the surface of the earth. Normally, such radiation would mostly pass through the atmosphere into space, but that layer of greenhouse gases traps them, which makes the planet hotter. And voila, that’s how you get climate change.  

What effect does this warming have on the earth? Well, many climate models predict dire future impacts, but the truth is that climate change isn’t only something that our kids and grandkids will have to struggle with. We’re experiencing climate change today, and it’s no joke. 


The Rise of Extreme Weather

We also know that climate change is making storms, like that recent relentless run of monster hurricanes, far more powerful than they would have been. Here’s how:

  • Climate change is leading to a rise in the global sea level, and higher seas leads to more intense and damaging storm surges, turning what we used to think of once-in-a-century storms into something more like once-in-a-decade events.
  • It’s also causing ocean temperatures to rise, and warmer water leads to increased evaporation, filling the air with more moisture. The more moisture there is in the air, the more rain will fall. We saw a record amount of rainfall lead to extensive flooding as Harvey stalled for days over Houston.

According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, hurricane activity (including intensity, frequency, and duration) has increased since the 1980s. Climate models predict a further increase in storm intensity (leading to more category four and five hurricanes) and rainfall rates by later this century. But climate change is doing more than just amping up hurricanes:

  • Heavy downpours are increasing all over the US.
  • More parts of the country are at risk of flooding than ever before.
  • Despite all that water in some areas, droughts are becoming more common in others.
  • And heatwaves, more intense than at any time in history, are on the rise.

Where We Go From Here

Given all this, is it, as EPA chief Scott Pruitt said, “insensitive” to talk about climate change now, as residents are still cleaning up from Irma, Harvey, and Maria?


Now is exactly the right time to make that connection. Slowly—many would say way too slowly—climate change is actually becoming a bipartisan issue. Leaders from both parties who live in areas facing the brunt of such destructive storms are demanding action now. 

We’re with them. And there’s no time to waste. President Trump has done all he can to boost the dying dirty-fuel economy and give up the fight against climate change, so it’s up to us to do what the federal government won’t. Stand with us and join the climate movement today.