Did Climate Change Drive Record High U.S. Temperatures?

A top climate dynamics expert delivers a cautious assessment

2 min read
Did Climate Change Drive Record High U.S. Temperatures?

The United States had the hottest March this year since record keeping began in 1895, with some 15,000 localities around the country registering record highs. In the map above, which comes courtesy of the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA), the red states had the warmest March ever, beige states temperatures well above normal, pink states above normal, and white states about normal; only Washington state had a cooler than usual March.

Is global warming responsible for the March temperatures? Writing earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times, John Michael Wallace, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, delivered a measured assessment. Wallace, one of the world's most highly regarded specialists in climate dynamics, first of all affirms that the effects of global warming are clearly evident in a statistical increase in record high temperatures, which now outnumber record lows by a ratio of three to one. Rising average global temperatures raise all ships, he observes.

Yet when it comes to March's madness, Wallace withholds judgment. "The cause of last month's strange weather was an extraordinarily large and persistent meander of the jet stream that swept tropical air, with temperatures reaching into the 80s as far north as southern Canada," he writes. "But let's remember where the burden of proof lies. In the world of sports, when an athlete is accused of relying on performance-enhancing drugs, it is the prosecutor who must prove the case. The same should apply to claims that the behavior of the jet stream is being profoundly altered by global warming. Thus far, such assertions are not well supported by scientific evidence."

Much more serious, concludes Wallace, is the projected impact of rising average global temperatures on biodiversity and crop yields in tropical Africa and southern Asia.

"The gradual warming of the tropics may not seem as weird as March Madness, but it has much more important implications for biodiversity, food security and the stability of world financial markets. If global warming continues as projected, the global consequences of deteriorating conditions in the tropics will soon be a lot more serious than a foretaste of summer weather in late winter."

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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