Climate Extremes Index on Rise, As Climate Attitudes Shift

From dessicating drought to blistering heat, the lower 48 states have taken it on the chin so far this year when it comes to extreme weather events. In fact, as measured by the federal government's Climate Extremes Index, the January-through-September period has been the most extreme such nine-month period on record.

The Climate Extremes Index, or CEI, is used to track the highest and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought, and tropical storms and hurricanes across the lower 48 states. The current index is being driven by the  massive drought that is still affecting a whopping 64.6 percent of the country as of Oct. 2, as well as record warm temperatures from the many heat waves throughout the year. The drought is forecast to persist for much of the High Plains and Western States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

NOAA's Climate Extremes Index, showing the record set so far in 2012 compared to all other years since 1910.
Click to enlarge the image Credit: NOAA/NCDC.


According to a report released on Tuesday by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the extremes index was more than twice the average value during the January-through-September period, marking the highest CEI value since such records began in 1910. The NCDC said that record warm day and overnight temperatures contributed to the record, as did the widespread dry conditions. 

The CEI's value for the January-to-September period was a record 45.2 percent, meaning that 45.2 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced top 10 percent extreme weather conditions. That beat the old record of about 38.48 percent, set during the same period in 1934 (which was also one of the hottest years on record in the U.S.).

Studies show that global climate change is already increasing the odds of some extreme weather and climate events, particularly heat waves and precipitation extremes, including droughts and floods.

According to a new poll released Tuesday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, more Americans are making connections between the recent extreme weather and longer term, manmade climate change. The survey found that 73 percent of Americans said that global warming made the record-high temperatures of the summer of 2012 worse, while 61 percent said weather in the U.S. has been getting worse over the past several years, which is up nine points since March of this year.

“Americans have just experienced two years of record-setting extreme weather events, and are increasingly connecting extreme weather in the United States to global warming,” said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University, in a press release about the report.

Midwesterners showed a significant attitude shift since the last survey was conducted in March, as 66 percent of people in the region said that droughts have become more common in their area. That was a 25-point increase since March, and is not that surprising given that the drought became particularly acute in the Midwest from March onwards. 

Public opinion on this issue seems to fluctuate somewhat as extreme weather events come and go. Even though certain extreme weather events, such as heat waves and heavy rainstorms, are becoming more common and severe due in part to climate change, the odds are that there will still be many more years that will be far less extreme than 2012.