Nothing says summer in Rhode Island like a beautiful, sunny day with a steady, cool breeze keeping the temperature bearable and perfect for enjoying some time in the great outdoors – whether in your backyard, a hiking trail or at a beach near you.
But we don’t seem destined for that kind of ideal summer this year. Maybe we should have seen it coming when Memorial Day welcomed the season in with a dreary, miserably cold and rainy weekend – or when most of July Fourth Weekend was spent inside rather than by the pool. In fact, what we’ve gotten thus far is one of the rainiest summers in recorded history. This was preceded by one of the hottest months of June in recent memory as well.
The historic heat and ongoing historic wetness is already taking its toll on farmers’ crop yields and will certainly be a hit to Rhode Island’s tourism budget. After all, who would buy an expensive beach pass for a summer where it seems every weekend is besieged by constant clouds and rain?
Of course, there’s not much the average person can do. We assume if you’re reading this you’ve already tried raising your clenched and shaking fist at the sky and yelled menacingly. No, unfortunately it didn’t work when we tried it either.
From our perspective, however, these types of odd and, in some cases dangerous, weather patterns – whether it’s extended periods of suffocating heat and drought that has plagued the West Coast and teed up another season of horrific wildfires, or the ongoing slog of rain, flooding and tropical storms we find ourselves in here along the Atlantic – provides a great chance for a learning opportunity.
Although it may not feel like it due to the temperature outside right now – this is what the advancing state of manmade climate change looks like. This is what it feels like. And it’s not going to get better without widespread, decisive action throughout the world.
We’re aware that this may be a controversial opinion to some reading this right now. But it is not controversial among those whose entire careers are based upon the objective study and analysis of worldwide weather patterns. It is also not controversial for anyone who cares to take 15 minutes of their time to look up this readily available data on their own.
Data shows that, since 1970, the world is getting consistently hotter and wetter – with more anomalous instances of record-breaking heatwaves and annual precipitation happening each decade. According to the EPA, 2011-2020 was the warmest decade in recorded history – with 2016 and 2020 being the warmest and second warmest years ever recorded, respectively.
“What does higher temperatures have to do with more rain?” you might be asking. It’s a great question, and one that isn’t given enough attention when discussing the impact of increasing global temperature on Earth. The simple explanation is that increasing surface temperatures increases the amount of evaporation from lakes, ponds and the ocean – and anyone who remembers their elementary school water cycle lesson will be able to fill in the blanks of what happens as a result of more evaporation.
It is no surprise, then, that the annual amount of precipitation has increased in 14 of the 20 years (70 percent) since 2000, and has increased in every year (except for 2012) since 2010. Rising temperature and increased precipitation are inherently connected, even if the concept of “global warming” only seems relevant when it is abnormally hot outside.
The lesson to be learned is that there is no avoiding the consequences of manmade climate change. It can be ignored – as it has been for the past few decades – but no political ideology can protect you from the weather. Wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, unrelenting rainfall and other abnormal weather patterns will continue to increase in frequency unless serious action is taken at high levels of government – not just in the United States, but across the developed and developing world.
We can accept this lesson as a matter of fact, or we can kiss our beloved summers as we once knew them goodbye.