Editorials

In floods, fires, signals of climate change

Trees and a fence burn from a wildfire in Devore, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17. A day after the fire ignited in brush left tinder-dry by years of drought, the flames advanced despite the efforts of over 1,000 firefighters.
Trees and a fence burn from a wildfire in Devore, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17. A day after the fire ignited in brush left tinder-dry by years of drought, the flames advanced despite the efforts of over 1,000 firefighters. AP

Louisiana is suffering through widespread flooding brought on by a rainfall that exceeded standards for a one-in-a-thousand-year event, the National Weather Service said. Livingston, Louisiana saw 21.86 inches of rain fall in two days. In Watson, Louisiana rain gauges showed more than 31 inches.

In California, weather is at the other extreme. Researchers say it has been 500 years since the drought-stricken Golden State was this dry. The lack of rain has turned vegetation in some areas to tinder. Wildfires have burnt more than 306,000 acres this year.

Extreme weather events in themselves do not signal a change in the climate, but the record of extremity is mounting to a point that climate change is dangerous to ignore and worse to deny. NASA reports that this July was the warmest July in 136 years of modern record keeping. Gavin Schmidt, director of at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, adds, “It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record.”

The climate in North Carolina has been warmer, breaking a number of daily records in recent years. But overall, the state has avoid the extremes of climate change. That good fortune is unlikely to hold. North Carolina is vulnerable to hurricanes, its wide coastal plain is subject to flooding and much of its tourist economy relies on its coast.

The floods will subside. The fire will burn out. But signals of climate change are growing stronger. The responses of North Carolina, the nation and world should grow stronger, too.

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