The recent tornado in Joplin, Missouri, my home state, was a sobering reminder that, despite advance warnings and fancy Doppler radar, there is little anyone can do if a massive tornado delivers a direct strike — except hide and hope.
Last weekend, an article by the Associated Press called "Questions and Answers About Tornadoes" ran in newspapers around the country, including The Commercial Appeal. The article noted that this year was "extraordinarily bad," with the highest tornado death toll of any year on record.
The next question the AP addressed was: "Can the intensity of this year's tornadoes be blamed on climate change?" According to the AP: "Probably not." No sources were given for that absurd claim.
The earth is indisputably getting warmer. Nine of the last 10 years have been the hottest on record. Glaciers and Arctic ice fields are melting. Sea levels are rising. The world's climate scientists say that a warmer earth means more moisture in the air, which means more dramatic weather swings, more drought, more flooding, bigger storms.
Consider: Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are experiencing drought conditions worse than those of the Dust Bowl years. There were record snowfall and rainfall amounts across much of the upper Midwest, which brought record flooding to the South. The Amazon basin has just gone through its second "100-year drought" in the last five years. A heat wave last summer destroyed much of Russia's grain crops. There have been record mega-floods in Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan this year. And, of course, April's wave of tornadoes in the U.S. was the worst on record. That's just a partial list of weather anomalies cited by the Global Climate Campaign's Bill McKibben in a recent Washington Post article.
There are those, of course, who argue that the earth has always gone through cycles of warming and cooling. Glaciers once covered much of North America. Skeptics say that modern man's loading of the atmosphere with carbon from fossil fuels has nothing to do with the fact that the planet is getting warmer. They say it's natural, and there is nothing we can do but try to adapt.
If so, we'd better get used to more floods, more frequent and powerful tornadoes and hurricanes, record annual snowfalls, long droughts, withering heat waves — and less beachfront property. We can't do anything about it, so we just need to watch the Doppler and hope for the best and take what we've got coming to us. Science is for sissies, right?
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...