Hell on the horizon
Climate-change deniers like Texas Gov. Perry don’t want to be confused with the facts about extreme weather
By John Grula 09/22/2011
Two of the biggest climate-change deniers currently on the national political scene are Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who is now also campaigning for the presidency of the United States.
Inhofe has called human-induced global warming a “hoax,” while Perry states in his recent book “Fed Up!” that it is “a contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”
Meanwhile, the citizens in their respective home states have been sweltering through the hottest summer ever recorded. The average temperature during the meteorological summer (June 1 to Aug. 31) in Texas was 86.8 degrees. In Oklahoma, the average was 86.5 degrees. These numbers didn’t just set state records, they set national records. By the end of August, the city of Wichita Falls in northern Texas had recorded 94 days this year in which the temperature rose above 100 degrees, also a record by far. Such brutal and unrelenting triple-digit heat was almost a daily occurrence over the rest of Texas and most of Oklahoma as well. In the latter state, the heat has so far caused the deaths of at least 14 people.
Heat waves often coincide with droughts, and that’s been the case this year in both Texas and Oklahoma. The 11 months ending this August was the driest such period in Oklahoma since records were first kept in 1895. Texas has also had its worst one-year drought in the state’s recorded history, and the cost so far to its agricultural sector has been estimated at $5.2 billion.
Cities and towns all across Texas and Oklahoma have ordered water rationing or outright bans on certain uses of water. In Llano, Texas, a town of 3,100 about 70 miles northwest of the capital city of Austin, the river from which the town gets all of its water has been running at critically low levels. This August, the Llano River flowed at 2.3 to 3.4 cubic feet per second, far below the median level of 123 cubic feet per second for the month of August. The Llano City Council has banned the filling of swimming pools, washing cars outside homes and most types of outdoor watering.
As Southern Californians well know, extreme heat and dry conditions greatly increase the risk of wildfires, and Texas and Oklahoma have recently had plenty of those. According to the Texas Forest Service, from Sept. 2 to Sept. 9, firefighters in Texas responded to 176 wildfires that burned 126,844 acres. The largest fire, about 30 miles east of Austin, destroyed 1,386 homes — a state record for a single fire. Many thousands of other people were given mandatory orders to evacuate their homes. At least four who failed to do so perished in the flames.
Of course, Gov. Perry, who is a well-known and vociferous critic of government spending, has asked the Obama administration to expand the scope of federal disaster relief for his beleaguered state. And while Mr. Perry and other Republicans, such as Congressman Eric Cantor, have recently argued that federal disaster relief for states hit by hurricanes must be offset by federal spending cuts, for some reason Perry has not yet made that same argument in the case of his fire-ravaged state.
It also does not sit so well that Texas recently made a 75 percent cut in funding for its volunteer fire departments as a cost-saving measure. In the recent Texas fires, many volunteer firefighters were completely overwhelmed by flames and did not even have trucks or basic fire-fighting equipment.
Many climate change-models predict that extreme weather events will increase in frequency and severity as the planet gets warmer. In 2011, we are certainly witnessing this in Texas, Oklahoma and much of the rest of the country. In addition to the epic heat and drought, Oklahoma recently set state weather records for the greatest 24-hour snowfall total (27 inches) and the most tornadoes in one month (50 in April). In May, a single monster tornado with wind speeds of up to 198 mph tore a six-mile path of destruction across southwestern Missouri and slammed into the city of Joplin, where it killed at least 160 people, injured hundreds more and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. It was the single deadliest twister in the US since the National Weather Service began keeping records 61 years ago.
Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have said that extreme weather events have become more frequent since 1980. Gary McManus, the associate state climatologist for Oklahoma, was recently quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “I think it would be a mistake to not think that this has become the new normal. Until it stops happening, we should expect it to continue.”
Will Senator Inhofe listen to Mr. McManus? I’m not holding my breath. People in denial don’t want to be confused with the facts. n
John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists