Bomb Cyclone of 3rd Jan, 2018: Who Ordered That?

My phone rang. It was a cold and dark afternoon of 3rd Jan, 2018. An agent of American Solar was interested in helping me explore some of the solar roofing options provided by the company. A green alternative to the non-renewable heating sources of today, I thought, as I glanced outside the window. The city was bracing up to welcome the much-feared blizzard – the 2018 bomb cyclone. The phone chat did not last long, being meant for those who owned a private house. Shortly after, the East Coast was hit with gusts of cold winds sweeping through cities and freezing humanity to a standstill.

Bomb cyclones are characterized by sudden steep drops in pressure (the ‘bomb’ effect), leading to a drastic influx of cold air from neighboring regions (such as northern Canada, in the present case). These cold gusts bring snow and result in severe weather conditions. The pressure drop for the current storm is the highest in the last 10 years, suggesting a severely intense cyclone. This and many extreme weather events have become much more frequent in recent past, leading to significant destruction of human life and resources. Think about the Hurricane Katrina and the massive devastation it brought. According to a report, majority of the ten most-severe snowstorms in the history of New York City have been recorded over the last two decades. Then there is the 2010 heat-wave in Russia that took around 50,000 human lives. And the last few embers of the Californian wildfires have just stopped raging.

There is growing evidence that global warming is partly behind these new weather trends. The scientific interest has matured into a new field: extreme event attribution. While attribution studies can probe links between climate change and past weather phenomenon, future projections are difficult. The Russian heatwave and Katrina fall into the long list of recent weather events that has been suggested to be the fallout of climate change.

Whereas global warming refers to the rise in average global temperatures, climate change is its outcome. As climates scientists would conclude, global warming can and has resulted directly in wind chills and blizzards especially in North America. Here is a no-brainer illustration: global warming raises the average temperature of oceans resulting in higher humidity. An increased water content in the air will, then, expectedly lead to enhanced precipitation during a cyclone.

Let’s hope the Paris Climate Deal does not meet the same fate as the Kyoto Protocol. US policy makers need to be more vigilant. The success story of the Montreal Protocol of 1987 comes to mind, as a great example. Latest research suggests that the ozone hole over Antarctica has been shrinking thanks to the CFC emission cuts achieved as per the Protocol.

The good news is: people are now becoming more aware of climate change’s ill-effects. It might take more time, it seems, until policy-makers get well-informed on this issue, as well. Right after the Hurricane Katrina, a lawsuit was filed against an oil company by a group of citizens on account of greenhouse emissions. Although the lawsuit did not see trial, the turn of events bears testimony to the increasing climate-consciousness amongst people.

Solar roofing might not be a bad idea after all!

Ahmad R. Kirmani

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