The official first day of summer has not even arrived and already the country is overheated, waterlogged and suffering. Extreme weather is here early, testing the nation’s readiness and proving, once again, that overlapping climate disasters are now becoming more frequent and upending Americans’ lives.
“Summer has become the danger season where you see these kinds of events happening earlier, more frequently, and co-occurring,” said Rachel Licker, principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group. “It just shows you how vulnerable our infrastructure is and that this is just going to get increasingly problematic.”
The Midwest is at the center of this shift. Hit with an unseasonably early heat wave in May that smashed records, the region has since been buffeted by more heat as well as severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Hundred of thousands of Midwesterners lost power earlier this week as temperatures soared into the upper 90s.
Licker, who lives in Madison, Wis., sought refuge at the library. But some of her elderly neighbors had to be helped out of their sweltering homes, where they had been trapped after finding they could not open their garage doors without electricity.
The power came back the following day, but by Wednesday, Licker was battling severe weather once again, sheltering from tornadoes in her basement. That afternoon, the National Weather Service issued 10 different weather advisories and notices for the region, including an excessive heat warning.
“It’s been really wild,” she said.
This deluge had deadly consequences: A 10-year-old boy was swept away in a Milwaukee drainage ditch following severe thunderstorms there.
Several experts say these types of simultaneously occurring disasters reveal the extent to which Americans remain unprepared for the escalating impacts of climate change. Downed power lines, homes swept away amid flooding and overwhelmed storm water systems highlight how little progress governments have made toward girding communities for extreme weather.
Yet, they caution, there are limits to how much the nation can adapt. The world has already warmed between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial average. If countries continue emitting carbon pollution at historically high rates, the future will be hotter — and harder to bear.