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Bad Weather in New Jersey. Is It Climate Change?

by Michael D. Lemonick

I'm working at a table in the food court at the local mall rather than at home, because a powerful storm that slammed into New Jersey on Saturday has knocked out the power at home — probably for the next couple of days. Huge trees are down all over town, blocking roads and ripping down power lines. Some roads are blocked instead by floodwaters, and rivers and streams are still rising.

This kind of damage is unprecedented in my town — we get plenty of rain and snowstorms, of course, with power outages and downed trees from time to time, but in nearly 50 years I can't recall a storm this damaging. Since I write about climate change, I know that friends and relatives will be asking me whether that's the reason for this particular storm.

I'll tell them that that's not the right way to think about it. No weather event — this one, or the string of heavy snows that hit the eastern US this winter, or Hurricane Katrina, can be definitively linked to climate change. What we do know is that such storms, along with droughts and floods and heatwaves and other extreme weather events, will happen more often in a warming world — and, in fact, extreme weather has already been increasing.

So I can't say that this single event is a result of climate change.

I can, however, look around at hundred-year-old trees snapped off or even uprooted by the wind, at limbs littered across lawns and roads, and at a refrigerator full of food that will have to go into the trash or the compost. And I can tell myself that while a storm like this might have been a occurrence in the 20th century, it probably won't be so rare in the 21st.