Wednesday, August 3, 2011

LiveScience: Record Heat Unlikely to Cool Climate Change Debate

No state in the union was safe from July's blistering heat wave, according to data from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center.

The horrible July heat wave, lasting weeks in some cities, the entire month in others, affected nearly 200 million people in the United States at some point. Preliminary data show that 2,712 high-temperature records were either tied or broken in July, compared with 1,444 last year, according to the NCDC. At least one weather station in all 50 states set or tied a daily high temperature record at some point during July.

Two weather stations tied for the hottest temperature recorded during July. The Blythe station in Riverside County, Calif., and the Gila Bend station in Maricopa County, Ariz., both hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.9 degrees Celsius) in July. Even Alaska recorded unusually sweaty temperatures. The temperature at the Northway weather station in Southeast Fairbanks County hit a record 97 F (36.1 C) on July 11. Newark, N.J., set an all-time high at 108 F (42.2 C) on July 22, breaking the record of 105 F (40.6 C), set in 2001.

In Washington, D.C., Dulles International Airport saw its hottest July on record this year and recorded its highest July temperature of all time at 105 F (40.6 C), on July 22 and heat index values around Washington topped 115 degrees in July. That same day, water in the nearby Potomac River was the hottest ever recorded at 96 F (35.4 C) (records go back to only 1988), reported the Capital Weather Gang blog.

Spinning a "heat wave conspiracy theory" that puts his listeners’ lives at risk, Rush Limbaugh argued that government warnings of life-threatening heat are “playing games” with climate change:

"They’re playing games with us on this heat wave, again. Going to be 116 [heat index] in Washington. No, it’s not. It’s gonna be like 100, maybe 99. A heat index, manufactured by the government to tell you what it feels like when you add the humidity in there.

Regardless of Rush Limbaugh's specious claims that it really isn't that hot, there is no denying July brought oppressive heat to much of the country, with all 50 states setting high temperature records.

LiveScience: Climate scientists say that such heat waves will be the norm in the future if climate change continues unabated, but experts say it will take more summers as hot as this one to shift the climate change policy debate.

"It's record-setting temperatures, and people are thinking, 'This is global warming, maybe we should think about this,'" said Ye Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia Business School, who has studied the influence of temperature on climate-change beliefs. "But will it have a long-term impact? Part of that depends on whether people remember these temperatures. I know every winter I'm not remembering what the hottest days of summer were like."

. . . Misinformation about climate change is rampant, said Edward Maibach, the director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Virginia. Almost 6 out of 10 Americans don't know that the percent of climate scientists who are convinced that the climate is changing is in the high 90s, Maibach told LiveScience.

[Why is there so much misinformation about climate change? Read, "Conservative Think Tank Trys Climate Skeptic Damage Control Over Record-Setting Heat Wave Headlines."]

The myth that there is scientific disagreement on the topic "turns out to be a very important determinative factor in undermining people's belief that the climate is changing," Maibach said.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that besides environmental groups, there is little public education on climate change, Maibach said. Unfortunately, he said, environmental groups are viewed with skepticism and not trusted. This summer's temperatures are unlikely to change the equation, Maibach said. "I don't think it's going to shift public opinion dramatically," he said.

Read the full story @ LiveScience.

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