Climate Change: A Practical Guide
By Linda Crerar & Nancy Aird
How are more extreme weather, rising temperatures, and climate change affecting our health, homes, finances, safety, and day-to-day activities? What can we do about it? Every year, Washington faces floods, wildfires, landslides, tornadoes, and snow.
Our Confluence staff has talked with experts and reviewed current studies to assess the risks. What are some risks and possible gains that are being noted today so mitigation steps can be initiated before issues become more severe?
Remember some of these extremes:
- Wildfire: Labor Day 2020 – Wildfires in eastern WA destroyed Malden and Pine City in Eastern WA. That same Labor Day weekend, high winds and downed power lines ignited 70 fires during a 36-hour period. More than 330,000 acres burned across WA, creating the largest one-day total. There were 225 DNR fires in April – a record. On average, DNR only has responded to 54 wildfires during the month of April over the last ten years (2011-2020). Most of these fires were caused by people burning debris piles from yard waste, one of the common causes of wildfires in Washington.
- Hottest WA recorded temperature: Hanford, WA experienced a high of 120°F on June 29, 2021. The same heatwave affected all of WA from June 24-29. Over 10 WA locations recorded temps well over 100 degrees. Seattle broke its high record by 5°.
- Rainiest places in WA (NOAA site NCEI): Washington holds 6 out of 13 spots for rainfall: Mt. St Helens 166.5”, Quinault Rain Forest 151.5”, Aberdeen Reservoir 133.9”, Forks 119.9”, Mt. Rainer 116.4”, and Hump tulips 115.6”.
Driest places in WA: Sequim (western WA) averages 15-17,” and Southeast WA averages less than 10 inches yearly.
- Tornadoes average 2 a year: The total since 1950 is 129. In 1997, there were 14, but 1972 was the strongest, with EF3 (158-206 mph) winds occurring in Vancouver, WA.
- Snowfall: Drought conditions will worsen and persist across much of the West. Dry spells between downpours and blizzards are getting longer, and the snowpack in the mountains is starting to melt during winter.
- Drought: In 2000, the drought lasted 120 weeks from November 17, 2019, to March 29, 2022. The intense drought week of November 3, 2021 affected 38.1% of our state. The warming atmosphere may also be suppressing critical summer rains from the Western monsoon.
- Landslides: Mt. St. Helens (May 18, 1980), and OSO (March 25, 2014). There is an increased risk of landslides across western Washington state as March comes in like a Lion for the Pacific Northwest. Since Sunday, hurricane-force wind gusts have been reported, and enough rain for Seattle to have its 3rd wettest February day on record.
RISK: Greater storm risks
IMPACT: Rising insurance rates
Someone must pay for the devastation caused by freezes, floods, fires, and windstorms.
We will likely pay the bills through higher insurance payments. Another factor in rate increases is uncertainty. Fear that the worst-case scenarios might be even worse can escalate higher premiums.
Being over $20 billion in debt from just hurricane payouts, the Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program raised premiums in 2020 by an average of 11.3 percent. Rates rise even more in the most flood-prone zones. FEMA is unveiling new premium calculates and rates with “Risk Rating 2.0” on October 1.
RISK: Changing farming conditions, including supply chain
IMPACT: More expensive groceries
When crops like corn, wheat, or fruits get damaged or wiped out from weather extremes, the harvest is decreased or eliminated. The Consumer Price Index shows a yearly cost of food increase. The pandemic caused some production and distribution disruptions, but experts note that climate contributed as well and will keep prices higher. Climates variations can cause more shortages and, in some regions in the world, famine conditions.
RISK: Hotter temperatures/chronic weather catastrophes
IMPACT: A shifting population map
As temperatures and sea levels rise, some places in our state and nation will emerge as safer havens. Inland US cities with higher latitudes and elevations are better insulated from extreme heat and coastal flooding. Over the past 100 years, global temperatures have risen by 1.8-degree F. NOAA notes sea levels have risen 7-8 inches since 1900 as a result. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2021 study is predicted to rise about 39” by the century’s end with an additional 10” rise if carbon emissions continue to heat up the Earth. WA has 3,026 miles of shoreline.
A coastal housing/population migration crisis will be brought on by rising seas and flooding. National sea level rising has already reduced home values in 18 states, from Maine to Texas, by $15.9 billion between 2005 and 2017, according to research released by the nonprofit First Street Foundation. Also of concern is the jeopardy of annual property tax revenue that helps fund emergency response.
RISK: Season changes
IMPACT: More allergies and bug bites
One of the ways the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tracks climate change is by cataloging the spring blooms of honeysuckle and lilacs across the country.
Evidence shows that “earlier dates” appear prevalent in the last few decades. Earlier blooms and grass growth have two measurable health effects.
Where the pollen season is trending earlier, hay fever rates rose 14 % higher than the normal range. In addition, the dangers of bug bites increased cases of Lyme disease alone, which doubled between 1991 and 2014.
RISK: Hotter Climate Heat and Poor Air Quality
IMPACT: Heat-related ailments/becoming housebound
Heat-related illnesses and hospitalization are increasing, says EPA, which surveys health data as an indicator of climate change. Hospital admissions and emergency room visits have increased, especially for vulnerable populations during heat waves.
Beyond the risk to our health, climate change can affect your fitness and life. We are making our homes more comfortable, and many homeowners in WA are now installing air conditioning because of our rising temperatures. Air conditioner gas refrigerant emissions are predicted to cause about 25% of global warming. Units are predicted to increase from the current 1.6 to 5.6 billion by 2030 per Trane.
RISK: Shifting Season Climates
IMPACT: Birding flyways
People think of climate change as a future problem, but birds are the messengers that these changes are happening to now from the National Audubon Society. Two-thirds of America’s birds are threatened with extinction from climate change.
OPPORTUNITY: Climate mitigation
IMPACT: More “green” investments
With any crisis, there is both danger and opportunity. Companies investing in green technologies could see a bump in “Green Investing” in stocks, bonds, and funds that focus on the environment.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP THE EARTH?
Earth Day is in April to look at information in the news.
- Learn more about climate change
- Be an advocate: Write letters to local elected officials to voice your support for environmental causes.
- Plant a tree in your community.
- Simple steps can save lives, homes, and landscapes, including dousing your campfire with water before leaving – if it’s still warm to the touch, it’s not safe to leave.
- Watch the weather: Windy conditions around a debris burn pile can cause nearby trees and grasses to catch fire and spread quickly.
Support farmers and their families.
- Join a cleanup: There are lots of Earth Day activities that involve cleaning up parks, beaches, river and stream banks, and more.
- Clean out a closet and recycle: Everyone has some usable items lying around that have been forgotten.
- Change your light bulbs: Switching to CFL or LED lighting options can reduce polluting power plant emissions and lasts longer than incandescent bulbs which makes for less items going into landfills.