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Our climate is beyond hot

Our climate is beyond hot

June 21 is the first full day of astronomical summer — and meteorologists all over the world have declared it #ShowYourStripesDay. On this day, expect to see your TV meteorologist sporting blue, white and red striped ties or pins or even custom dresses.

The stripes are a clever visualization of the changing temperature of the planet created by Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading. The blue color on one side shows that conditions in the early part of the 20th century were colder than the long-term average. The white that pops up in the middle represents temperatures close to average, and the red at the tip of the tie or the edge of the pin means warm. When viewed in this way, the trend in global warming is striking — the red that starts to pop at the end (roughly 1980) as global warming really kicks in.

It’s natural to want to talk about warming in the summer. This is when we are fighting to get small children to wear sunscreen and debating whether to turn up the air conditioning. We are all hyper-attuned to extremely hot conditions. Hot summer days, or more generally, record high temperatures are a solid way to track our warming planet.

But climate change is more than just hot days. Warming trends are apparent in all seasons, though they vary in strength from season to season and place to place. Each place has its own warming stripes pattern.

Climate change is also more than just temperature. Water is an integral part of the climate cycle of the planet. When the planet warms up, more ice melts into liquid water and more liquid water evaporates into vapor. The increase in evaporation means that dry areas like the Southwest get drier. But at the same time, the extra water vapor in the atmosphere also increases the chance of intense rain that triggers destructive flooding — or in the winter, big snowfalls that bring regions to a standstill for days.
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