Alarming Weather and Climate Trends

100 Years of Climate Data Shows Disturbing Trends

June, 2011

Because it seemed to me that natural catastrophes have been increasing in both frequency and magnitude in recent years, I decided to do a little research, find out if my perceptions are accurate, or just the onset of middle-aged dementia. I gathered data from a number of sources, including Unisys Weather, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Geological Survey (USGS), and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). In some cases I lifted graphs directly from the source sites, in others I downloaded the raw data and graphed it using Open Office's Calc program.

Storms and Hurricanes

Source

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

Unisys Weather collects data on tropical storms large enough to earn a name, hurricanes, and major hurricanes. Major hurricanes are those with winds hitting or exceeding 110 miles per hour, and are category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale. From the graph, it is easy to see that there has been a gradual but marked increase in the number of named storms. The average number of named storms per year during the first 5 years on record (1851-1855) was 5.8. The average during the 5 years from 2006 to 2010 was 12, more than double the earlier figure. The average number of hurricanes in those same periods also nearly doubled, from 3.8 to 6.4. No data is included for 2011, it will be interesting to see if this year's hurricane season continues to follow the trend.

US Tornadoes

Source

Annual Tornado Counts Rising Significantly

Even more striking than the storm data, information from the National Climatic Data Center shows a significant increase in the number of tornadoes in the United States over the past 60 years. In 1950, the count was 200. In 2010, it was 1300. Some of the increase might be explained by the fact that there are more people around to report tornado sightings, and better technology to detect and track tornadoes. Still, the graph continues to show increases throughout the '90s and beyond. Are you ready for the real kicker? Not shown on the graph is the number of tornadoes in the US so far in 2011. Just half way through the year, and the total so far is 1573, according to the National Weather Service. In just 6 months we've had more tornadoes than all of last year. In fact, it's more than any single previous year except 2004 and 2008.

Earthquake Data

Worldwide Earthquakes 5.0 and higher on the Richter scale
Worldwide Earthquakes 5.0 and higher on the Richter scale | Source

Worldwide Earthquake Counts Trending Upward

As the trend line from this graph from Johnston's Archive shows, the number of annual earthquakes world-wide measuring at least 5.0 on the Richter scale is trending upward. The trend seems pretty gradual at first glance, but keep three things in mind. First, it is worth pointing out that the number increases from 1325 in 1970 to 2117 in 2010, an increase of nearly 60 percent. Second, the trend line would be much steeper, showing a more pronounced increase in earthquake frequency, if we started the graph in 1998 and only showed the last 13 years. Finally, this does not include earthquakes from 2011, such as the the deadly one that hit Japan in March of this year.

Global Average Temperatures in Degrees Celsius

Global temperatures rising since 1880
Global temperatures rising since 1880 | Source

Global Warming

Perhaps the most visually striking graph, this one shows the increase in annual average temperature world-wide. If you click the source link and review the other temperature graphs available from GISS, you can see average temperatures broken down by season, hemisphere, latitude bands, and even the seasons. But they all tell pretty much the same story: the earth is getting warmer. This graph shows the average global temperature ranging from about -.5 degrees Celsius in the early 1880s to about .8 degrees in 2010. This translates to a range of about 31 degrees Fahrenheit to about 33.4 degrees. Even though a change of a few degrees doesn't seem very significant, the warming trend is very pronounced and seems to be accelerating. The graph shows a steeper increase over the last 50 years than that of the 80 years prior.

Few scientists disagree with the fact that the earth is warming up. There is some debate on how much impact we humans have had on the process. I find it interesting that the temperature increase has accelerated as more nations enter the industrial and post-industrial stages.

Interpreting Severe Weather and Climate Changes

Some with a fundamental religious background will look at this data and draw comparisons to the "End Times" as predicted in the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation. “A third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” (Rev. 8:7). Adherents to the belief that the Mayans predicted the end of the world, or at least, drastic changes in 2012 might be inclined to consider these trends the early indications that the Mayans knew what they were talking about.

Science of course offers a number of explanations more along the lines of geological cycles, sun-spot patterns, and other naturally-occurring phenomenon. A sizable number of scientists also believe that human industry has contributed to global warming, which may also affect some of the other processes mentioned.

My intent is to present the data, and get people thinking and talking about it. I'll leave the explanations to the various experts, but it is clear that something is happening.

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Comments 12 comments

Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA

Great graphs and information. Well done! It is good to see the data clearly, rather than go on a sense that things have changed, but not be sure. Voted up.


jponiato profile image

jponiato 5 years ago from Mid-Michigan Author

Thanks Tracy, for the comment and the follow. Glad you liked the hub.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Hmmm..... some would argue the global warming figures as indicating the effect of urban heat islands. The rest of the article seem hard to argue with but it is not clear whether the variations are outside the normal range or whether the trend is a fluke like tossing a known fair coin and getting 20 heads in a row.


jponiato profile image

jponiato 5 years ago from Mid-Michigan Author

Yeah - I'm trying not to read too much into the global warming figures. Heads with much more knowledge than I are doing that around the world. You can follow the source links and see some regional data, or just over the oceans, etc.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

Great Hub with lots of interesting information. Rated up and I'm a fan.


Lee 5 years ago

Thanks for the info. As for the comment of flipping a coin and landing on heads 20 times in a row, the odds of that happening are 1 in 1,048,576.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California

I guess it's essentially an established fact that the climate is warming. Perhaps politics is responsible! Anyway, since the earth's climate is very complex, I'm not sure we have enough data to make dire predictions. Later!


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

You got that right jponiato, and I agree with the reputable scientists who say that humankind, us, is respeonsible with all the hyrocarbons we spew into the atmosphere each minute, each year.


jponiato profile image

jponiato 4 years ago from Mid-Michigan Author

Thanks for reading, xstatic, and I have to go along with you. The experts have weighed in, and the ones who say we're contributing to this change far outnumber the few who disagree.


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

This is so true. I can't understand all those anti-climate change people who claim it's not real. Thanks for the graphs. I noticed that 4 years ago, the flowers in my area flowered twice for one season due to the strange temperatures. I hate to think what happens once the warming gets uncomfortable - do we become cave dwellers or what?


jponiato profile image

jponiato 3 years ago from Mid-Michigan Author

Thanks, @Suzanne - I need to take some time to bring these graphs up to date.


Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Well no doubt they will show the same upwards trend because soaring temperatures seem to cause more natural disasters.

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