Tropical Storm Elsa is the latest evidence climate change is happening now

Weather map titled Tropical-Storm-Force Wind Speed Probabilities showing Tropical Storm Elsa over Florida and the Caribbean
A map shows wind-speed probability for Tropical Storm Elsa. (NOAA)

Tropical Storm Elsa became the earliest fifth named storm on record Thursday, the latest weather-related record this year that climate scientists warn is linked to climate change.

While Elsa, whose maximum sustained winds are 45 miles per hour, is unlikely to inflict the same amount of damage as a stronger hurricane if and when it makes landfall, its formation on July 1 — following Ana, Bill, Claudette and Danny — fits into a pattern in which the changing climate makes conditions for life-threatening storms more favorable.

For the past seven years, named storms have arrived ahead of the official June 1 start of hurricane season, including this year with Tropical Storm Ana, which formed on May 23. In 2020, which tied 2016 as the hottest year recorded by humans, a record 30 named storms formed, including six major hurricanes.

While the continued rise in global surface and water temperatures has expanded the parameters of hurricane season, factors such as stronger wind shear can impede the formation of storms that might have otherwise been named, the New York Times reported. Still, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast 13 to 20 named storms this year, and Elsa’s early arrival means the season is well on its way to fulfilling that prediction.

It has already been a year of unprecedented weather events. Two record-breaking and deadly heat waves in the Western U.S.; record rainfall in Michigan, which overwhelmed Detroit’s aging storm water system; a record-breaking winter storm in Texas, which disabled the state’s power grid; the historic drought gripping nearly the entire western part of the country; and an unusually early start to so-called wildfire season in California — all of these events have been linked to climate change.

Residents paddle kayaks along a flooded street
Residents paddle kayaks along a flooded street in Midland, Mich., on May 20, 2020. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

The Lava Fire, which is located near Mount Shasta, Calif., grew on Wednesday to more than 19,000 acres, forcing the evacuations of residents from homes. Just miles away, the Tennant Fire grew to more than 9,400 acres. Both blazes came after a weekend of extreme temperatures born of the heat dome that descended over the Pacific Northwest and are being aided by another year of below-normal rainfall as well as a marked increase in average temperatures.

“The mean warming in this region so far has been somewhere between 2 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit, so I think it’s fair to say that at a minimum, climate change contributed at least that much to the severity of this heat wave,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Yahoo News.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which is charged with preventing and fighting blazes across the state, agrees that climate change is behind the increased wildfire activity there.

“While wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year. Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend,” Cal Fire says on its website.

The trend line, according to a draft report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by Agence France-Presse, is that unless humans stop pumping greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere, these weather conditions will continue to worsen.

“Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” the report says. “Humans cannot.”


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