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Research and Innovation

Record-Setting Rain and Heat? This Is the New Normal

thermometer showing a temperature above 100 degrees fahrenheit
Photo credit: Rusty Clark. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kathie Dello, the state climatologist of North Carolina and the director of the North Carolina State Climate Office, which is housed at NC State University. This post is part of a series highlighting ways that NC State is helping us understand, mitigate and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

I’m the director of the North Carolina Climate Office, which is the go-to source for expertise in North Carolina’s climate. But if you call me to ask if there’s a downpour on the way, I probably won’t know the answer off the top of my head. That may seem odd, but it’s because I’m mostly thinking about the climate – and weather is something a little different.

We climate experts all have our favorite analogies for the difference between weather and climate. Weather – or the short-term events a place experiences – is equivalent to your mood. Climate – or average conditions over a longer time period – is your personality. Here in North Carolina, we know our climate is marked by mild winters and hot summers, with no distinct wet season. We can see days swing from 74°F on one day to 45°F the next.

We’re supercharging our atmosphere, like a baseball player on steroids.

However, that analogy about moods and personalities is somewhat imperfect in a rapidly changing world. With climate change, we’re supercharging our atmosphere, like a baseball player on steroids. And even small shifts in our overall climate lead to huge changes in our extremes. As our personality shifts slightly, we see more of those bad mood days – and those moods can be worse than what we’re used to.

We’ve seen some of those personality shifts in the past couple years.

2019 was officially North Carolina’s warmest year in recorded history, per our neighbors in Asheville at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). We are seeing more daily maximum temperature records than minimum temperature records, while our nights have been warming significantly for the past few decades.

And it’s not just the temperature here in North Carolina.

In 2018, North Carolina set an all-time state record for the most precipitation in a year at a single station. The official weather station at Mt. Mitchell – also the highest point east of the Mississippi – measured almost 12 feet of precipitation during the calendar year.

The location’s 139.94” of precipitation was declared the new official record by NCEI in early July. It broke the previous record for Mt. Mitchell by more than three feet.

In other words, North Carolina is changing rapidly.

We no longer get the luxury of talking about climate change as a future problem. It’s a now problem.

Climate change isn’t just a polar bear floating on a lonely piece of ice. It’s changing the conditions that are ideal for growing things like our prized sweet potatoes. It’s threatening the health of our residents, and hurting the people who suffer the most – low-income communities who may not have sufficient access to cooling, or who live in flood prone areas. It’s a social issue.

We can point to the aftermath of Matthew, Florence, and Dorian. Flooding in Asheville. Longer, more intense heat waves in Raleigh. Sunny day flooding in Wilmington. Coastal erosion on the Outer Banks. We no longer get the luxury of talking about climate change as a future problem. It’s a now problem.

The bad news is that this is the new normal for only a short time. We will continue to warm. Our weather will continue to become more extreme. Those heat waves and floods from 2019 may seem insignificant in 2050.

North Carolina is among a few states that is actively preparing for a changing climate. Two recently-released reports – the North Carolina Climate Science Report and the North Carolina Risk and Resilience Plan – tackle pieces of our climate problem. We are looking at a different North Carolina in the coming decades. And we’ll need a global strategy to ultimately change the trajectory that we’re on if we ever want to get back to a “normal” climate that is less extreme.

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  1. Jim, you make it sound like there should be a single webpage that shows human’s CO2 is causing serious global warming. You just can’t take such a complex idea and put it into a single paragraph or page. Matt has shown lots of patience in giving you several links. He is very correct when he says “It’s just not feasible for us to copy and paste thousands of pages of source material.” Please attempt to meet him somewhere in the middle by clicking on more than one page.

    1. Hi Jim – that’s a good question. There is actually overwhelming evidence that human activity is the primary driver of global climate change, to the point that there is no longer any real debate about it in the scientific community. There’s a fairly straightforward explanation of the finding on NASA’s site: https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/ For a more detailed discussion of the issue, you can check out the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change here: https://ar5-syr.ipcc.ch/topic_observedchanges.php

      1. Matt, you just said there is evidence somewhere, but didn’t actually show it. That is problem I find when I check alleged citations – they make a lot of claims, but never show the evidence that those claims are based on.

        Sp, I again ask – please show actual evidence that man’s CO2 is causing serious global warming. Of course we both know that consensus in not evidence anymore than unsupported claims are evidence.
        Thanks
        JK

        1. I’m not sure how much evidence you need, Jim. The IPCC synthesis report alone is 167 pages long. That’s the summary of the summary, being a synthesis of numerous other reports — each of which has hundreds of citations. This may be the most intensely studied phenomenon in history, and is certainly one of the most studied subjects of the past thirty years. If it is more evidence you want, have at it. It’s not hidden. Just follow the links in the previous comment. Here’s an especially concise summary, if you find the IPCC report overwhelming (it’s a lot of data) — with plenty of citations that you can follow up on.

          1. Matt–“The IPCC synthesis report alone is 167 pages long.”
            Don’t expect me to go an a wild goose chase through 167 pages looking for evidence. If that report actually contains real evidence, please provide a link to it.

            Matt–“This may be the most intensely studied phenomenon in history”
            Then you should have actual evidence at your fingertips, instead of making vague statements.

            Matt–“Here’s an especially concise summary, if you find the IPCC report overwhelming (it’s a lot of data) — with plenty of citations that you can follow up on.
            Please point to the one(s) that actually present real evidence (as opposed to claiming evidence exists).
            Thanks
            JK

          2. I’m sorry you feel that way, Jim. You have access to literally hundreds of documents that address your questions — but you do have to actually click on the link to access them. It’s just not feasible for us to copy and paste thousands of pages of source material.

          3. Let me add a few facts about evidence. Any evidence must explain contra facts such as:
            1. It was warmer in the past without man’s CO2 in the Minoan, Roman and Medieval times, each about 1000 years apart, the last being about 1000 years ago. One must explain why whatever caused this established pattern suddenly quit causing warming so that man’s CO2 could take over.
            2. In the ice cores made famous by AL Gore, CO2 FOLLOWS temperature and therefore could NOT be causing temperature changes. A similar pattern has been found in ALL time scales.
            3. Water vapor causes the vast majority of the mis-named greenhouse effect. CO2 about 9-26%
            4. There is NOTHING unusual about today’s climate when compared to historical norms. It has been warmer before, we had more storms, hurricanes in the past. Same for droughts. Sea level has been rising since the last ice age and has shown NO recent increase in the rate.

          4. Matt–” It’s just not feasible for us to copy and paste thousands of pages of source material.”
            You appear to expect me to read “thousands of pages” in hopes of finding your alleged evidence.
            If evidence actually exists it will be a few pages that you can easily link to. That you cannot do that, suggests that you do not actually know of any evidence and have been fooled by the many unsubstantiated claims that there is evidence out there somewhere. If that is the case, please admit it.
            An example of evidence can be found in the IPCC report where they show a graph of computer model output both with and without man’s CO2 and then make the claim that proves man’s CO2 caused the warming. Of course the problem is that the models have not been shown to be accurate and in fact are all over the place. It also presumes that we know ALL things the affect climate.

            Again, please show actual evidence that man’s CO2 is causing serious global warming.

            Thanks
            JK