LENOX -- Welcome to the New Abnormal.
Berkshirites are shaking their heads at the past two months of wild, wacky weather. We’ve had a record deluge of nearly 17 inches since June 1 -- that equals about five months’ worth of rain, on average. July alone saw 9.23 inches in the rain gauge.
While it may be hard to believe, we’ve had one rainier July -- in 2009, with 11.5 inches recorded at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, where the U.S. government maintains an automated observation station. But this past July logged the fourth-highest one-month rain total since 1938, the first year airport data was compiled.
The modern record-holder for the most rain in June remains the year 2000, with 8.7 inches.
Sifting through 75 years of National Weather Service data for Pittsfield, we’ve not found a June and July combined total that rivals this year’s.
The flash floods have been frequent, and damaging in spots, as have the intense thunderstorms and even a tornado with 90-mile-an-hour winds that touched down briefly in Dalton last Sunday afternoon. The city of Revere, just north of Boston, had a more severe and destructive twister Monday morning -- extremely rare for that coastal area.
We’ve had unusually cool days this summer, though not caused by a version of the "polar vortex" that hyperbolic TV and online weathercasters claim. There has been a lack of intense or prolonged summer heat -- the peak so far was 88 on July 2, with an 86-degree day later in the month.
No doubt, climate change has had dramatic, and in some cases, unpredictable effects nationally and worldwide. Much of California remains in an extreme or exceptional drought, with a wildfire season now encompassing much of the year instead of late summer.
As a new National Climactic Data Center report found, planet Earth continues to heat up. June was the warmest on record, based on global averages, and so was May. The center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), based its findings on data from 2,000 weather stations worldwide. Its records go back to 1880.
Of course, local results vary. After a much colder than normal winter, Berkshire County temperatures have been close to average in recent months. The lead scientist for the Climactic Data Center and author of the latest global report emphasizes that global trends often are not reflected in specific areas.
While the Northeast has been spared heat waves and portions of the South and Midwest have been unusually chilly for this time of year, the Arctic and Greenland as well as much of Asia, Africa and South America broke records for warmth in June -- more than 30 nations in all.
Some skeptics continue to argue with the overall findings even though they’re based on the conclusions of 425 scientists representing 57 countries, but NOAA’s latest annual report, released last month and available online, carries a great deal of weight and bears up under scrutiny. (See for yourself at www.noaanews.noaa.gov)
"These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place," stated NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. "This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business and nations to prepare for and build resilience to the impacts of climate change."
The detailed report cites a continuing increase in greenhouse gasses, with all-time high levels found at observation stations in Hawaii and the Arctic.
Four separate databanks found that 2013 was somewhere between the second and sixth warmest on record; Australia was definitely the warmest ever.
Surface ocean temperatures continued to rise, as did sea levels. The Arctic had one of its warmest years in the past century and the region’s sea ice continued to erode.
With no action in sight in the U.S. or other major polluting nations such as China and India, the lack of political will to confront climate change will cause much grief in the years to come. But energy conservation is well worth a full-throttle effort while we wait in vain for the Washington gridlock to break.