ST. LOUIS – Storms seem to be more extreme, both locally and nationally. The costliest storm in Missouri and Illinois in 2022 was the July 25–26 flooding event, which cost between $500 million and $1 billion. The cost of last year’s drought was a bit less for Missouri.
Extreme weather events are occurring at an alarming rate. Is it due to the ozone, the solar cycle, greenhouse gases, or is there a human link?
“It’s important to understand that the surface of our planet has been changing over its full history. There have been warm periods and there have been cold periods, and this is called climate change,” said Michael Wysession, professor of geophysics at Washington University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and executive director at the Center for Teaching and Learning.
“And this is an important part of the surface of our planet. The dinosaurs experienced this. All of life on the surface has seen the climate constantly changing. The particular change we’re in right now is a period of unusual rapid warming. That, specifically, is what global warming refers to.”
Nationally, the costliest storms this year were tropical in nature: hurricanes Ian, Nicole, and Fiona made up an estimated $116.4 billion, or about 71%, of the cost of billion-dollar storms in 2022, of which there were 18 in total nationally, not to mention the 182 deaths due to those tropical cyclones.
So what is causing the big increase in extreme weather recently, and how are humans connected?
“Scientists have looked very carefully at all the possible causes for the recent changes in temperatures that we have seen…,” Wysession said. “We’ve looked at sun output, volcanoes, ocean circulation, and we have modeled these to the best of our understanding. All of these factors usually affect climate very slowly. What we’re seeing is not only unusual warming, but a rate of warming we have not seen in our planet’s history before. The only explanation is greenhouse gases.”
The St. Louis area has already been affected.
“The current changes in climate have been severe in St. Louis. Just blocks from my house, there were cars floating down the street. The amount of rain dropped in the St. Louis region was double the amount ever recorded,” Wysession said. “This is directly connected to the intensity of storms now sweeping across this region. We can expect Missouri to see more severe flooding and more severe periods of drought as the global temperatures increase.”
Professor Wysession says it’s not all gloom and doom, since we are steadily converting to green energy globally.