Planes, Trains & Automobiles: How Global Warming Could Derail Your Commute

A road buckles due to the intense heat in Chicago creating dangerous conditions for drivers.

Tired of sitting in airplanes that seem to taxi forever on the runway? Sick of waiting for crowded, delayed trains? Going insane sitting in your car in endless traffic?

Buckle up. It could get a hell of a lot worse.

From derailing trains to SUV roll-overs, this summer’s intense heat wave has already created some inconvenient and scary situations for travelers. And considering that record temperatures seen over the last two weeks could be “cooler-than-average” in many areas of the country by mid-century due to global warming, travelers should expect far more headaches during the summer travel season.

Here are three transportation problems caused by the recent record-breaking heat wave.

1) At Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC on Friday, as temperatures climbed well over 100 degrees, a U.S. Airways plane got stuck on the runway when its wheels sank into the softening asphalt. The flight was delayed for about three hours until a large tow could pull it out of its rut.

2) At roughly the same time the U.S. Airways plane got stuck, a metro train traveling from Prince George’s County, Maryland to Washington, DC was derailed due to a warped track. The excessive heat caused a “heat kink” that forced the train off its tracks. Luckily, none of the 55 passengers were injured.

3) Across the country, travelers driving in their vehicles also faced dangerous conditions as roads buckled due to pressure from intense heat. In Chippewa County, Wisconsin, five sections of Highway 29 blew up in one week — in one case causing two SUVs to flip on the highway at roughly the same moment.

From June 2011 to June 2012, the U.S. has seen the warmest 12-month period on record; last month, daily temperatures for the lower 48 states was 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th century average; and across the country; and in the first six days of July, we saw 1,916 daily high-temperature records broken.

So what happens when these temperatures are the new normal in summer? Travelers better prepared for a hellish — and in some cases, more dangerous — commute.

9 Responses to Planes, Trains & Automobiles: How Global Warming Could Derail Your Commute

  1. paul magnus says:

    The extreme weather is also probably having an impact on air flight cost due to more storm related damage on the ground and in the air and higher insurance rates as a result.

    Also it is starting to impact oil supplies which contribute to higher fuel costs. For an industry on the edge already these smaller contributions can have a big impact overall.

  2. paul magnus says:

    extreme weather damage AND delay….

  3. colinc says:

    From the article…

    Buckle up. It could get a hell of a lot worse.


    It WILL get unimaginably worse!

  4. Zookeeper says:

    Relax everyone, George Will says it’s just “summer.”


  5. Paul Magnus says:

    Passengers at Perth Airport faced delays of up to five hours after a thick blanket of fog forced incoming planes to divert to other airports around the nation.

  6. Paul Magnus says:

    Of course the models dont do well with holding patterns that seem to get stuck nower days.

    Factors Affecting the Frequency and Severity of Airport Weather Delays and the Implications of Climate Change for Future Delays

    This paper evaluates the impact of changing weather on air transportation operations over the coming 50 years by using London’s Heathrow Airport as a case study. The weather parameters associated with weather-related delays at Heathrow are first identified, and statistical models for the occurrence and the severity of weather-related delay events are then presented. Thunderstorms, snow, and fog are found to increase the chance of weather-related delay by more than 25%, whereas an increase in wind speed of 1 knot above the mean increases the probability of delay by 8%. The severity of delay can be classified correctly in 84% of cases by using nine weather predictors.

  7. Laurie says:

    It is the SUN, hon. “…In addition to the cold and warm phases, the new climate curve also exhibits a phenomenon that was not expected in this form. For the first time, researchers have now been able to use the data derived from tree-rings to precisely calculate a much longer-term cooling trend that has been playing out over the past 2,000 years. Their findings demonstrate that this trend involves a cooling of -0.3°C per millennium due to gradual changes to the position of the sun and an increase in the distance between the Earth and the sun. …”

  8. colinc says:

    Well, since no else has mentioned them, let me add a few more considerations.

    1) Obviously, the atmosphere is warming and quickly. Warmer air reduces the amount of lift any aircraft wing can generate, meaning that they have to lighten their payloads, be it passengers or cargo, to get and stay airborne. Of course, that has a negative effect on the carriers’ bottom-lines as well as “passenger safety.”

    2) The warmer atmosphere causes more evaporation (of H2O) and thus, as we all know, there is more water-vapor suspended in our breathing/flying space. That extra water increases drag on every plane, regardless of size, design or function. Yes, it may not be much of an effect at 30-35K ft, but between the runway and that altitude, it will have a significant impact. Again, a negative “forcing” on profit. (Or is it a positive forcing for increasing ticket prices?) Note, too, that the increased drag also has a negative effect on automobile, motorcycle and truck fuel consumption… as well as bicycle riders! (Admittedly, the latter is “negligible” due primarily to the slower speed.)

    3) The additional moisture in the atmosphere also reduces the efficiency of any internal combustion engine (both jet turbofans and piston), again meaning more fuel used for any given distance.

    4) All the extra heat-energy and water-vapor in the atmosphere is increasing the size and severity of some (many?) storm systems. There are more than a couple consequences not least of which is the probability of more and stronger “micro-bursts” and significantly stronger vertical motion in any/all air-columns (i.e., turbulence).

    So, I wish all flyers the best of luck, you’re going to need it. (Personally, I quit flying more than a decade ago and will not ever again set foot on a plane, even if it’s not going to get airborne. Moreover, my wife and I have only 1 car and for the past decade or so average less than 500 mi/month.)