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BELMONT — Climate change is to blame for the severe weather taking place across the Lakes Region, said advocacy organization Environment New Hampshire in it’s latest report that confirms that the number of extreme rainstorms had doubled in the state since 1948.
Evidence of these extreme weather occurrences were visible earlierthis month, after a microburst blew into the area, causing area-wide damage to homes, buildings, and nearly 20 vehicles that had branches or entire tree fall on top of them.
Jessica O’Hare, advocate for Environment New Hampshire, met with members of the media on Tuesday to review the severe weather that has taken place across the state, more specifically in the Lakes Region. Environment New Hampshire released its report this week, explaining how climate change is linked to more extreme weather. The report, When It Rains It Pours How Global Warming and the Increase in Extreme Precipitation from 1948 to 2011, examines trends in the frequency of and the total amount of precipitation produced by extreme rain and snow storms across the contiguous United States from 1948 to 2011.
“As the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours — especially in recent years, as bigger storms have hit New Hampshire more often,” O’Hare said. “We need to heed scientists’ warnings that this dangerous trend is linked to global warming, and do everything we can to cut carbon pollution today.”
O’Hare said climate change is significantly affecting communities across the state. “The data shows in this report that those extreme weather events have more than doubled in New Hampshire in the last 65 years,” O’Hare said. “That means that the extreme storm that used to happen every 12 months is now occurring every five to six months.” O’Hare said the impacts of extreme precipitation are real in the 20th century, noting that flooding has been the most damaging natural disaster in the state over the past few years. When Hurricane Irene hit the state with greater than a half foot of rain, more than 275 roads were closed and 165,000
people were left without power.
“The threats are real,” O’Hare said. “Scientists are urging people to take immediate action.” Prolonged periods of drought have been paired with events of extremely heavy precipitation. O’Hare explained that, when the air temperature warms, the evaporation process is sped along and the air is able to hold more water, which provides the fuel for the big downpours when they finally do happen.
“To really avoid the worst impacts of climate change, you’re going to have to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2025 and 85 percent by 2050,” she said. “It’s a daunting task, but it’s achievable.” O’Hare said there are solutions being put into place in New Hampshire now that are aimed at promoting a healthier planet. Accompanying O’Hare was Jim Rubens for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group advocating for policy changes to reduce air pollution in the United States. “These events are firmly linked to the science now,” said Rubens.
“The climate is changing, the earth is getting warmer, and more of this severe weather will occur until we stop putting carbon pollution into the environment.”
Rubens said that the New England states have been hit by these heavy precipitation events harder than any other region of the country, with there being a 67 percent increase over the past 50
“Scientists can now say the increased intensity and frequency of these severe precipitation events is caused by climate change, a direct result of us putting carbon pollution into the air since 1880,” said Rubens. “We can’t say any one storm is caused by climate change or increase of carbon dioxide.”
Joining the conversation on Tuesday morning was Belmont Selectman Ruth Mooney. Normally, someone can see a storm “brewing” as is comes in, Mooney said, but within seconds during the most recent microburst, the wind and rain picked up like she had never seen before.
“It’s was just so intense,” she said. “Climate change is causing temperatures to rise, and we’re seeing the impact in all of our local towns.” Mooney also has noticed an increase in the severity of the storms and believes that something needs to be done soon. “It begins at the local level,” she said. “As [a] selectman, I take pri[d]e in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our community. It is my job to make sure that the taxpayers’ properties are protected and the needs of these neighborhoods are met.” Mooney commented on the recent downpour in the Lakes Region, saying that she was thankful that the damage was minimal; but, as heavy rainstorms intensify in frequency and severity, flooding and property damage become a greater concern.
Using data from 3,700 weather stations and a methodology originally developed by scientists at the National Climatic Data Center and the Illinois State Water Survey, the report identifies storms with the greatest 24-hour precipitation totals at each weather station, and analyzes when those storms occurred. The report also examines trends in the each weather station. Following are a few key findings from the report for New Hampshire and the New England.
Following are a few key findings from the report for New Hampshire and the New England.
– Extreme rainstorms and snowstorms are becoming more frequent. New Hampshire experienced a 115 percent increase in the frequency of 1948 to 2011. In other words, heavy downpours or snowstorms that happened once every 12 months on average in 1948 now happen twice as frequently
— five to six months, on average.
– Storms with extreme precipitation increased in frequency by 85 percent in the New England area during the period studied, making it the region with the largest increase in the frequency of heavy precipitation storms.
– The biggest rainstorms and snowstorms are getting bigger. The amount of precipitation released by the largest annual storms in New Hampshire increased by 33 percent from 1948 to 2011.
O’Hare noted that an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme rainstorms does not mean more water will be available for human use. Hotter temperatures fuel extreme rainstorms by increasing rates of evaporation. At the same time, however, that evaporation increases soil dryness. Moreover, scientists expect that, as global warming
intensifies, longer periods with relatively little precipitation will tend to mark the periods between heavy rainstorms. “How serious this problem gets is largely within our control,” said O’Hare “New Hampshire officials can build on the progress we have made reducing emissions by strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has been a key part of our strategy to reduce pollution and shift to clean energy.”
O’Hare said that, according to the most recent science, the U.S needs to reduce its total global warming emissions by at least 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and by at least 85 percent by 2050, in order to prevent the most devastating consequences of global warming. Environment New Hampshire highlighted two proposals from the Obama administration: carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks through model year 2025, and the first ever carbon pollution standards for new power plants — as critical steps toward meeting these pollution reduction targets.
At the state level, New Hampshire officials are considering ways to improve the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first-in-the-nation cap on carbon pollution from the power sector that sells permits for carbon emissions and has led to nearly $1 billion in investments in energy efficiency and clean energy solutions in the region. For more information and to read a full copy of the report, www.environmentnewhampshire.org or call 603-229-3222