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It’s Not Just You—Wild Swings in Extreme Weather Are Rising

Hurricanes, climate change, and the decline of the Maya

The year is 150 CE. It’s a humid summer day in Muyil, a coastal Mayan settlement nestled in a lush wetland on the Yucatan Peninsula. A salty breeze blows in from the gulf, rippling the turquoise surface of a nearby lagoon. Soon, the sky darkens. Rain churns the water, turning it dark and murky with stirred-up sediment. When the hurricane hits, it strips leaves off the mangroves lining the lagoon’s sandy banks. Beneath the tumultuous waves, some drift gently downward into the belly of the sinkhole at its center.

Nearly two millennia later, a team of paleoclimatologists have used sediment cores taken from Laguna Muyil’s sinkhole to reconstruct a 2,000-year record of hurricanes that have passed within 30 kilometers of the site. Richard Sullivan of Texas A&M presented the team’s preliminary findings this month at AGU’s Fall Meeting. The reconstruction shows a clear link between warmer periods and an increased frequency of intense hurricanes…

 

 

It’s Not Just You—Wild Swings in Extreme Weather Are Rising

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These wild swings from one weather extreme to another are symptomatic of a phenomenon, variously known as “climate whiplash” or “weather whiplash,” that scientists say is likely to increase as the world warms. Image Credit: Photograph by DAVID MCNEW/Getty Images

From 2011 to 2016, California experienced five years of extreme drought, during which numerous high temperature records were broken. These hot, dry years were followed by the extremely wet winter of 2016 -2017, when, from October to March, an average of 31 inches of rain fell across the state, the second highest winter rainfall on record.

All that rain meant a bumper crop of grasses and other vegetation, which, as hot and dry conditions returned, likely contributed to a combustible mix of fuels that played a role in the severe fires that have swept California in the past two years.

These wild swings from one weather extreme to another are symptomatic of a phenomenon, variously known as “climate whiplash” or “weather whiplash,” that scientists say is likely to increase as the world warms. The intensity of wildfires these days in places like California are a symptom of climate change, experts say, but the whiplash effect poses a different set of problems for humans and natural systems. Researchers project that by the end of this century, the frequency of these abrupt transitions between wet and dry will increase by 25 percent in Northern California and as much as double in Southern California if greenhouse gasses continue to increase.

 

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