"The old records belong to a world that no longer exists"
- Dr. Marty Hoerling, Research Meteorologist
NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory
It has been a remarkable summer across the Northern Hemisphere, with high-temperature records being set at locations in North America, Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Now that we are well into the fire season, a pall of smoke generated by large wildfires hangs over much of the western United States, as evident in yesterday afternoon's GOES-16 satellite image.
Although the climate, especially on regional scales, has always exhibited variability, we are now accelerating into a future in which the planet will be warming at a rate not seen since the emergence of human civilization.
Further, while this warming may occur in fits and starts rather than at a steady rate, the idea that what we are currently experiencing is "just a cycle" is pure fantasy. We will also not settle around a "new normal" for at least the next few decades, and even that assumes we get our greenhouse gas emissions under control quickly.
The reality is that we have poked the climate bear with a hot poker and it is not going to calm down anytime soon. If we curtail greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, perhaps we can get this thing under control in the latter half of the 21st century, but right now, that's looking unlikely.
So, it is time that we all get used to a world of remarkable change, that we give up on the idea of a stationary climate, and we rise to meet the challenge posed by rapid change.
If you want an example, look no farther than the western U.S. wildfires. Yes, the lack of precipitation this past winter probably wasn't due to global warming and wildland management, development patterns, and climate variability have contributed to the mess we're in, but the fingerprints of climate change are in the ashes. Global warming is shifting the weather in ways that we are seeing longer fire seasons, increased fuel aridity, increased acreage burned, and more extreme fire behavior (see, for example, Abatzoglou and Williams 2016).
And here's a sobering thought. The train has just left the station. The fire season of the future is longer, hotter, and drier. If you think 2018 is bad, fast forward to a drought period around 2048 or 2078.
Normal is gone forever. The sooner we accept that and build a weather and climate resilient society for the future, the better.