Hot US Summer 'What Global Warming Looks Like'

By Amir Khan on July 3, 2012 8:14 AM EDT

Air Pollution
While the recent freak weather across the United States cannot be blamed on global warming yet, experts say the extreme heat, wildfires, droughts and floods are a prime example of what to expect as global warming worsens. (Photo: National Park Service)

While the recent freak weather across the United States cannot be blamed on global warming yet, experts say the extreme heat, wildfires, droughts and floods are a prime example of what to expect as global warming worsens.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona, told the Associated Press. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about."

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Linking specific weather events to global warming is difficult and involves complicated computer models, math and time, but experts says the 3,215 daily record temperatures set in June are a good indication of what's to come.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and ozone, trap heat in the atmosphere and act as a blanket, raising temperatures and causing climate change. Global temperature increases could affect sea levels, crops and animal habitats. Scientists expect heat waves, cold snaps, hurricanes and other extreme weather events to increase as temperatures increase, according to EPA officials.

"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor, told the Associated Press . "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters."

Since January 1, the U.S. has set more than 40,000 daily high record temperatures compared to only 6,000 record lows. Over the last century, the records were set almost equally, but that has changed over the past few years.

"In the future you would expect larger, longer more intense heat waves and we've seen that in the last few summers," NOAA Climate Monitoring chief Derek Arndt told the AP.

The record heat, droughts and early snowmelt all combined to set the stage for the deadly wildfires raging across the Midwest. And if it's any indication, we can expect more of that in the coming years.

"This is what global warming is like, and we'll see more of this as we go into the future," according to Jerry Meehl, a climate extreme expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. 

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