Small talk about the weather has long been a monotonous part of adulthood, but it's gotten a lot more interesting in recent months. If you've suspected that the weather has been particularly noteworthy as of late, climate data says you're onto something.
According to NOAA reports, this fall began as one of the warmest on record, with average September temperatures in the United States falling 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. It was also extremely active for hurricanes, with four major ones making landfall. And predictions say that these warm temperatures and wet conditions will continue.
After analyzing decades worth of climate data from more than 700 U.S. weather stations, the Associated Press determined that the first freeze continues to arrive later and later. In the 10-year period between 2007 to 2016, it came a week later, on average, than it did between 1971 to 1980. Last year, it came two weeks later than the 20th-century average. The Weather Channel also predicts higher-than-average November temperatures, as well as "witch storms"—periods of heavy rains and strong winds. It is also betting on a La Niña developing later in the season, which could further increase precipitation across parts of the country.
While a mild, rainy fall and shorter winter may seem like a good thing for the coldblooded among us, it's a pretty bleak forecast for our fall foliage and the farming industry, since certain plants require a certain amount of chill. Though we can't blame this weather pattern exclusively on climate change, many scientists agree that human-caused global warming is contributing to the problem.
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History summarized it well in an interview with Slate: "The long-term averages—and we increasingly have very good data sets on wildfires, on storms, on the first frost and the first frost-free days, and all of these things—tell us a very, very stark story. There’s just no getting around it... Just like we no longer debate 'Is there a connection between smoking and lung cancer?' we can no longer debate that there’s a connection between drawing a lot of CO2 into the air and warming the planet.
"The flip side of this is a cold winter and so on, and people will say, 'Oh, is this climate change?' as if it’s a joke. I assure you it is not a joke."
Eager to make sure this extreme weather doesn't continue? Check out mbg's resources for becoming part of the solution to a warming planet.