The Fires This Time (Extra!)

How the news media dealt with — or failed to — the links between this spring’s severe weather and climate change:

On April 14, a massive storm swept down out of the Rocky Mountains into the Midwest and South, spawning more than 150 tornadoes that killed 43 people across 16 states (Capital Weather Gang, 4/18/11). It was one of the largest weather catastrophes in United States history—but was soon upstaged by an even larger storm, the 2011 Super Outbreak that spread more than 300 tornadoes across 14 states from April 25 to 28 (including an all-time one-day record of 188 twisters on April 27), killing 339 people, including 41 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN, 5/1/11).

Ensuing weeks saw Texas wildfires that had been burning since December expand to consume more than 3 million acres (Texas Forest Service, 6/28/11; CNN, 4/25/11), plus record flooding along the Mississippi River, which couldn’t contain the water from April’s storms on top of the spring snowmelt. On May 22, a super-strong F5 tornado killed 153 people as it flattened a large part of Joplin, Missouri (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, 5/22/11) ; in the first two weeks of June, a heat wave broke temperature records in multiple states, and the Wallow fire became the largest in Arizona state history (Washington Post, 6/14/11).

It was an unprecedented string of severe weather: By mid-June, more than 1,000 tornadoes had killed 536 people (NOAA, 6/13/11), nearly as many deaths as in the entire preceding decade. And it was only natural to ask: Were we seeing the effects of climate change?… [read more]

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