Chapter 3.6: Weather Extremes And The Human Niche     

A GROWING NUMBER OF EXTREME EVENTS ARE NOW BEING LABELED AS “IMPOSSIBLE” WITHOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, YET NATURAL VARIABILITY STILL LAYS THE FOUNDATION FOR SUCH WEATHER TO OCCUR. Natural variability refers to recurring conditions such as the seasons or El Niño years that potentially add intensity to specific weather events. Despite these foundations, the role of natural variation in Earth’s temperature and moisture movement is diminishing in comparison to the growing effects of Anthropogenic warming.

What this is

The image below is modified from the book, with color added. This is the distribution of average global temperatures before and after the Great Acceleration (1950s to present day). You can click on it to download a full res version for use with students or in PD.

How you might use these with students

Another version of the graph below is animated and shows how distribution of land temperature anomalies has varied from 1951 to 2020. When you start the movie (download it to see the motion), it barely waggles from side to side, but as the 1970s approach is starts to move back and forth and noticeably to the right. When showing this to students I usually stop the video after the 1970s and ask “What do you see?” “What do you think will happen after the 1970s?” “Does the ‘spread’ change too, and if so, what does that mean?” This generates a lot of conversation. I also am going to make a set of the “loaded dice” for students to try out. Before climate change version: 2 sides white (average temperature year) 2 sides blue (cooler than average year) 2 sides red (warmer than average year). After climate change version: 1 side each for white and blue, 4 sides red.

OpenSciEd (free and high quality curriculum!) has a 7th grade unit on the question: How do changes in the Earth’s system impact our communities and what can we do about it? This unit on Earth’s resources and human impact begins with students observing news stories and headlines of drought and flood events across the United States. Students figure out that these drought and flood events are not normal and that both kinds of events seem to be related to rising temperatures.

While we are on the topic of flooding, Scientific American has an excellent article on atmospheric rivers and adaptation: Better Atmospheric River Forecasts Are Giving Emergency Planners More Time to Prepare for Flooding

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