It’s only going to get worse.
It’s only going to get worse.
In August, rows of corn plants dotted the rural landscape in the Honduran department of Lempira. From afar, nothing looked amiss in these small farms. Yet it hadn’t rained for the previous 40 days, and the corn cobs tucked inside the husks were small and kernel-less. Across Honduras, an unpredictable climate has made this situation increasingly common. Droughts have wrecked crops, and changing weather patterns have created additional challenges for millions of Honduran farmers. To survive amid the bad harvests, rural families are looking elsewhere to supplement their incomes: to different sectors, nearby cities and north to the United States.
A caravan with thousands of migrants has been making its way through Mexico after setting out three weeks ago from Honduras, which holds the distinction of being one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. Over the past four decades, the country’s average temperature has risen, and it has borne the brunt of ever more frequent severe weather events. These climatic changes are on a collision path with the country’s weather-dependent workforce and economy. Today, 1 in 4 Hondurans continues to work directly in agriculture, and bananas and coffee continue to be two of the top economic drivers.
The effects of a changing climate go well beyond droughts and floods to include the dreaded coffee leaf rust. Honduras’s coffee sector is one of the largest rural employers, with more than 96,000 small coffee producers and a million workers. A warming climate has allowed the coffee rust to spread to plants in higher elevations, and farmers have to invest in medicines to keep their plants healthy. However, these extra costs contribute to making Honduran coffee more expensive to grow than farmers can sell it for on the global market. And in response, the sector has seen layoffs, bottomed-out wages and an exodus of rural workers.
Michael Mann, climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, along with colleagues, has published a new study that connects these disruptive weather extremes with a fundamental change in how the jet stream is behaving during the summer. Linked to the warming climate, the study suggests this change in the atmosphere’s steering current is making these extremes occur more frequently, with greater intensity, and for longer periods of time.
The study projects this erratic jet-stream behavior will increase in the future, leading to more severe heat waves, droughts, fires and floods.
The jet stream is changing not only because the planet is warming up but also because the Arctic is warming faster than the mid-latitudes, the study says. The jet stream is driven by temperature contrasts, and these contrasts are shrinking. The result is a slower jet stream with more wavy peaks and troughs that Mann and his study co-authors ascribe to a process known as “quasi-resonant amplification.”
The altered jet-stream behavior is important because when it takes deep excursions to the south in the summer, it sets up a collision between cool air from the north and the summer’s torrid heat, often spurring excessive rain. But when the jet stream retreats to the north, bulging heat domes form underneath it, leading to record heat and dry spells.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Harvey, Irma and Maria were three of the top five most costly hurricanes in the nation’s history, and all of them occurred in just one year.
From 1980 to 2017, there were an average of 6 events each year that wreaked over $1 billion in damage, adjusted for inflation. But from 2013 to 2017, the average was 11.6 events per year. As of last week, 2018 already saw 11 weather events that cost over $1 billion.
Flash floods have killed about a dozen people in the Aude region of southwest France, according to multiple local news outlets. A resident in one village called it “the apocalypse” as intense rains overwhelmed roads and drainage systems overnight into Monday morning.
Three months’ worth of rain fell in just a few hours, France’s Interior Ministry says, adding that some areas saw up to 14 inches. The rainwater was driven by winds up to 60 mph.
Several residents told local media that the situation sharply deteriorated around 3 a.m., forcing people to scramble to higher ground as they sought safety. The high water moved with violent force, tearing bridges away from roadways and flooding homes, as seen in video and photos from the scene.
“We are experiencing new extremes, because we have made a new climate.”