The talk around town and with friends was about how lovely the day was as the snow melted and the earth sprang to life. Eighty-two degrees! I celebrated with them. Got the bike out. Sat on the patio furniture to enjoy the sun. Grilled chicken in the evening. After a long winter of unusual ice storms and incredible amounts of snow for our area, the warm weather was a huge relief. We all relaxed. Spring is coming joyfully to northern Wisconsin!
But I have a foreboding…
It is April 13, 2023 and we are in the middle of a heat wave that no one noticed. The 82F degrees flashed on the bank sign would be a lovely summer day, but our normal average high for this date is 57F. So we were 25 degrees warmer than usual. In any other circumstance, that’s a heat wave.
Over 100 places will set record-high temperatures this week. The warm air is extending all across the Midwest and the Northeast. Sioux Falls, South Dakota broke their record by seven degrees. La Crosse, Wisconsin shattered theirs by ten degrees. Temperatures are 25–30F degrees above normal from Nebraska to Delaware. And boy, does it feel nice after the lo-o-o-ong winter!
I was out of the country for about 30 days and arrived home a week ago. The snow over my garden was over four feet deep. The mailbox was buried.
Only one week later, the ground is beginning to show through. That much snow has melted that fast.
That is a lot of water going into the rivers. Floods are coming. I’m sure we will be seeing that on the news. But no one is talking about a heat wave.
The problem is that we are not seeing reality. This, too, is global warming! This, too, is climate change! It may feel good, but it is not right. And it is likely a harbinger of things to come.
Now, think about summer. The daily average high in July is 83F in my area. Add 25 degrees to that and you get 108F. Add 30 degrees, an increase that many places are experiencing, and it is 113F. That’s HOT. With our typical summer humidity, that would be dangerously hot. And we would all recognize it as a heat wave. But not in April. We think of it as a beautiful spring, which it is.
Today, the primary danger of climate change and the warming of the Earth in my area comes from these events. Two, three, five, or fourteen days of extreme temperatures. Again, 25–30F degrees from normal, and 7–13 degrees above the record highs. That is a radical change from the norm. In spring, this warmth is experienced as a relief and a joy, even though it leads to flooding. In summer, a thirty-degree delta will be deadly. Or we’ll have fires.
Every area is different, but we need to learn to look at all radical changes as indicators of the state of climate change. The issue is not the average temperature rising two degrees Celsius, which seems pretty tame. No. The problem is periods of radical shifts like this April’s heat wave. When we get this large of a heat wave in the spring, it is all fine. But it won’t be confined to spring, and when it comes in the summer, many people will die. We are being given a warning. Society isn’t really dealing with this, so we may each have to do it individually.
The warm weather is telling us we need to learn to think differently. Most climate change thought is focused on long-term solutions. That’s as it should be. We got into this mess over a long time span, and there is no immediate fix. But these weather events are short-term in nature, and we need to be able to survive them in the short term. Three or four days of heat waves can kill. Three or four minutes of tornadoes can kill. Three or four seconds of fire can kill. Hence, it is the short-term effects of climate change that can end our lives.
I believe these very warm spring temperatures are a wake-up call to those who will pay attention. Such temperature increases won’t be limited to spring. Whether it is this summer, next summer, or the one after that, a heat wave at that time of year is coming. Let’s get ready because it will be devastating. The challenge is to see what is happening and then be prepared to get through those two weeks. Quite literally, your life may depend on planning for this.
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I had the same experience. None of my neighbors wanted to hear a ‘buzz-kill’ reflection on the eeriness of the weather.