Western wildfires, record-setting temperatures, devastating floods, and other extreme weather made more extreme by global warming have welcomed us to summer 2012. Yesterday’s solstice — marked by 66 high scorching records across the Eastern Seaboard — should serve as yet another reminder that it’s time to seriously address the carbon pollution.
Here are the top five extreme weather disasters in the U.S. for June:
1. Colorado Wildfire Blazes: This month, wildfires in northern Colorado forced thousands of families to evacuate their homes. Fueled by 40-to-50-mph winds and dry brush left after a particularly hot spring, the flames have destroyed at least 181 homes with 2000 firefighters deployed.
2. Zoo Animals Drowned in Minnesota Floods: Heavy rain in Duluth, Minnesota flooded two-thirds of the Lake Superior Zoo, drowning at least 11 animals in the process. Sinkholes and mudslides ravaged the rest of Duluth, flooding homes and shutting down roads. The flood also swept up an 8-year-old boy who luckily survived with just a few cuts.
3. Flooding in the Florida Panhandle: Earlier this month, torrential rains damaged homes and forced evacuations in the Florida Panhandle. The downpour cut power in the Escambia County jail and sent more than 100 residents to spend the night in Red Cross shelters, with 40 homes flooded in the city of Gulf Breeze.
4. Summer 2012 Poised for Record Low Sea Ice: Satellite observations analyzed by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center show that this summer looks likely to bring unusually ice-free Arctic waters. The NSIDC predicts a low-ice year, the lack of white ice allowing more heat to be absorbed into the Arctic, an amplifying feedback that further accelerates warming and ice melt.
5. California Wildfire Prompts Evacuation: A San Diego County wildfire necessitated the evacuation of 150 homes. Over 500 firefighters were dispatched to attack the 907-acre blaze, which was fanned by strong gusts of wind and sent flames burning along the highway.
According to an NOAA analysis, the Northern Hemisphere land and ocean average surface temperature for last month was the all-time warmest May on record, at 0.85°C (1.53°F) above average. And as Amanda Staudt notes, it’s time for policymakers to start connecting the dots on carbon pollution. The recent influx of western wildfires — not to mention flooding, record heat, and the like — is extremely unlikely to occur under otherwise natural conditions.
Some states and insurance companies are beginning to recognize this, and regulators in California, Washington, and New York recently announced that insurance companies will be required to assess and disclose climate-related risks they face.