Copyrighted material

Forecast For Y2000: Hot And Dry

by Cat Lazaroff

Find other articles in the Monitor archives about
global warming

(ENS) WASHINGTON -- The four month period of January through April this year was the warmest such period on record in the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said May 19.

The reddest areas are +4 degrees Celsius, and the deepest blue are -4 degrees Celsius, based on both satellite and in situ readings
In a year already marked in the U.S. by threats of record drought, wildfires and huge tornadoes, the statistic is another warning that the effects of global climate change are being felt across the country and around the world.

This was the warmest January through April in 106 years of record keeping, according to statistics calculated by NOAA's scientists working from the world's largest statistical weather database. NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, holds data from record keeping that goes back to 1894.

The preliminary data indicate that almost 70 percent of the U.S. was much warmer than normal, while less than one percent of the country was much cooler than normal.

The average temperature, at 44.3 degrees Fahrenheit (6.8 degrees Celsius), was .3 degrees over the second warmest January-April, which occurred in 1990. Nevada had its second warmest April ever, Arizona had its third warmest. New Mexico and Utah each experienced their sixth warmest Aprils.

The American southwest has been struck by a rash of wildfires in recent weeks, with one blaze sweeping the north rim of the Grand Canyon and another threatening the nation's largest nuclear weapons lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Set deliberately to clear underbrush, the fires spread quickly through the ultra-dry forests.

U.S. must lead or no turning back
Climate change may significantly reduce future crop yields in some U.S. agricultural regions, says a new report by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University and Iowa State University.

The report, delivered May 25 at a congressional briefing in Washington, will reveal potential increases in outbreaks of crop diseases, pests and weeds. The economic costs of agricultural production may rise in response to extreme weather events like heat waves, torrential rains and flooding, and droughts.

Across the globe, land and ocean temperatures in April continued to average well above the 1880-1999 long term mean.

The temperature averaged about 0.51 degrees Celsius above normal for both land and ocean surfaces, slightly cooler than the record warm temperatures recorded during the 1998 El Nino episode. Sea surface temperatures averaged 0.35 degrees Celsius above the long term mean, the sixth warmest April since 1880.

The much warmer than average global temperatures were largely due to the extremely warm conditions observed over Northern Hemisphere land surfaces, NOAA said. The global land temperature was 1.01 degrees Celsius above normal in April, second only to the 1.27 degrees Celsius recorded in 1998.

Increasing signs of global warming prompted U.S. President Bill Clinton to use a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council on Sunday to promote U.S. action on climate change.

"Every member of Congress here will tell you that a huge portion of decision makers in our country and throughout the world -- and most troubling, in some of the biggest developing nations -- still believe you cannot have economic growth unless you pour more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," Clinton said. "There is nothing so dangerous as for a people to be in the grip of a big idea that is no longer true. It was once true that you had to put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to grow the economy, to build a middle class, make a country rich. It is not true anymore."

Clinton warned that the U.S. must take the lead on addressing climate change and other environmental problems to persuade other countries to do the same.

"There's no way in the world we'll be able to convince our friends in India or China, which over the next 30 years will become bigger emitters of greenhouse gases than we are, that they can take a different path to development, and that we're not trying to keep them poor, unless we can demonstrate that we have let this idea go and that we have evidence that a different way will work," said Clinton.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the Northern hemisphere may have contributed to environmental catastrophes in the Southern hemisphere. For example, UNICEF, the United Nation's Children's Fund, said today that low rainfall during the last two years has caused severe drought conditions in 11 Indian states. An estimated 130 million people -- 15 percent of the population -- in more than 70,000 villages and 230 urban centers are at risk.

Apart from economic loss due to low agricultural production, loss of animal wealth, inadequate nutrition and primary health care, the impact of the drought is likely to retard the developmental process in children, UNICEF warned.

The Politics of Water
In East Africa and South Asia, tens of millions of people are at risk from persistent droughts. Across vast areas of both continents, crops have wasted away, wells are dry, livestock are dying and the land has become a desiccated sprawl of dust.

In 1999, the U.S. experienced one of its worst droughts ever recorded. Almost two thirds of the country suffered severe and persistent heat waves, killing 257 Americans and thousands of cattle in July alone.

This year, based on preliminary precipitation data, January-April 2000 ranked near the long term mean, NOAA reports. About eight percent of the country was much wetter than normal, while about three percent of the country was much drier than normal.

But just last week, the National Weather Service released a forecast calling for a significant drought across much of the U.S. this summer.

In April, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proposed the creation of a global alliance for water security, warning that the squeeze on global water resources will tighten as populations grow, demand increases, pollution continues and climate change accelerates.

"As competition for water intensifies, further disagreements over access and use are likely to erupt," said Albright. "Unless properly managed, water scarcity can be a major source of strife, as well as a roadblock to economic and social progress."

Other forms of extreme weather are also taking a toll. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd killed 78 people and about three million farm animals, causing an estimated $6 billion in damages in North Carolina alone, the worst disaster ever for that state.

"Polluting industries say that it will cost too much to tackle the problem of global warming," said Anna Aurilio, legislative director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG). "If we fail to curb global warming pollution, we are flirting with disaster. The costs will only continue to increase."

In April, US PIRG released a report illustrating the high costs of global warming. For example, in the U.S., weather related natural disasters in the 1990s took almost 4,000 lives and caused almost $200 billion in economic loss, including 450 lives and $14 billion in economic loss for 1999. Worldwide, the weather disaster toll was more than 330,000 lives and more than $625 billion in economic loss, including 52,000 lives and $68 billion in economic loss for 1999.

On Sunday, Clinton said the U.S. must take action on global warming while safeguarding the prosperity of Americans and people around the globe.

"We will reverse the course of climate change while enhancing, rather than eroding, economic growth with new technologies and new sources of alternative energy," Clinton pledged on behalf of the Democratic party.

© 2000 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 22, 2000 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.