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How much of our perception of climate change is due to an increase in our understanding of climate? How much of the apparent increase in severe weather is due to an increase in our ability to predict, with increasing accuracy and timing, the arrival of severe weather events?
Tornadoes, or any severe weather event for that matter, at one time arrived unbeknownst to the towns in their paths. As recently as only approximately 150 years ago, they would wreak havoc and be recognized for their force or pass through unpopulated areas unnoticed and miss being catalogued at all. Then came man’s abilities to measure temperature and pressure, to monitor larger and larger expanses of the earth, and to transmit information over longer and longer distances, all with increasing speed.
Informal weather forecasting began approximately 1000 years ago with the Babylonians, spread and continued through many cultures, relating changes in weather to astral signs, lunar phases, and wind patterns. Although some of the relationships have held up through the ages, many have not.
Repeated changes in weather and the timing of specific events undoubtedly held sway with patterns that had, as their basis, the arrangement of the seasons. Inhabitants of the world knew that a particular event had a greater likelihood of occurrence at a particular time each year, the year being defined by its own astral and lunar relationships and patterns. Extreme events were hardly even recognized. It’s one thing to be able to measure wind speed, another to feel it. The death and destruction from a storm was bad regardless of the storm’s intensity.
With the invention of the telegraph came warnings, and the first boost in the ability to predict coming storms, not only providing for preparation that led to a decrease in death and destruction, but also allowing for comparisons of a storm’s strength along it’s path. Then came greater advances in technology, and greater abilities to sense and visualize the patterns that make for the changes in weather and climate.
In a short 150 years, we have gone from spreading the news of coming storms by horseback to seeing instantaneously, by satellite, the movement of storms across continents; and with that the ability to measure storm intensity using barometers and anemometers rather than human perception alone. In a short 150 years we have gone from having very little notice a storm is coming to having notice for days in advance; and have gone from knowing a storm hit to knowing a strong storm hit.
This is not climate change caused by man, but a change in our awareness of weather and climate change frequency and intensity. The locations and timing of patterns have become more visible at increasing scale. We can see storms coming and measure storm intensity when once we could not. We aren’t having more severe weather but more and earlier warnings when severe weather is approaching, and more information regarding storm intensity.
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