26 July 2018

A Simple Tweet That Tells a Vivid Story

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Simon Lee posted a tweet Sunday night that got a lot of attention. He’s a meteorologist who will soon begin working toward his PhD at the Univ. of Reading in England, and here’s the story:

It was a hot June in the UK, and many are comparing it to the memorable heatwave of 1976. Using freely available data from NASA, Simon put together two maps that show how different the world of 1976 is from today, and it’s one of those pictures that’s worth a thousand words. The maps compare temperatures in 1976 and 2018 to the long term 30 year average from 1951-1980. It was really hot in the UK in June of 76, but the heat was surrounded by normal to below normal temperatures.

Now, look at the heat in June of 2018 and you see a stark difference: The heat waves are bright spots in a much hotter world. What a powerful image.

Simon was surprised at the attention that tweet received and you can read more about it on his personal blog.

Some of my thoughts about this:

Humans are very bad at recognising and responding to what are called slow motion disasters, and climate change  is the perfect example. The maps above compare temperatures to the average from 1951-1980, a period when many older adults came of age.

A 21 year old would not think this June was much different than the others they remember. However, someone born in 1950 and who came of age from 1951 to 1980 would likely sense a difference. Are you in that group? Do you notice a difference? I turned 21 in 1980, and I definitely do.

Still, those born in the 1950’s underestimate how big a change has occurred. 

Why, you ask?

Because they lived through 1980 to 2018 like the rest of us. If you could go back in time to an average June in 1955 or 1957, it would be very noticeable how different the weather of June 2018 is now. If you live north of 55 degrees latitude then it’s  a more striking difference because of the much greater warming there. Even a 40 year old in the High Arctic will tell you it’s notably different now.

I know because I asked a lot of Inuits when I was there!