It’s hot – now you know what to blame

Complaining about the weather is as American as apple pie and bagel at a baseball game, but we had nothing to blame. Now, thanks to advances in climate science, we can tell on any given day how much climate change will affect the odds of your ice cream melting on your lap.

Fans of the Houston Astros, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Atlanta Braves and the Wilmington Blue Rocks had at least one day last week in which climate change boosted the odds of warming twofold or more. This means that the thick blanket of greenhouse gases wrapped around our planet has doubled or even tripled the frequency of these temperatures.

But in the past week, the impact of climate change has been more noticeable at night. Every major league baseball team saw at least one night last week with nighttime temperatures that had a detectable climate fingerprint. For 80 percent of the continental United States and 81 percent of Americans, at least one night had warm temperatures that increased at least twice because of climate change. And over a vast swath of the country home to 35 percent of Americans, people experienced nighttime temperatures that were at least five times more likely. This region extends outward from Arizona and another region extending from Texas to Florida and north to Indiana and Ohio.

If it seems to you that summer nights don’t calm down the way you remember, this is not your memory. They do not. If you live in a house or apartment with air conditioning, you pay a higher price to get a healthy night’s sleep. For people who don’t have an air conditioner, or who can’t run it, the price can be even higher. Hot nights exacerbate health problems such as asthma and heart disease, and may even be deadly for some people. Animals and plants feel the effects, too. Higher nighttime temperatures can reduce yields in some crops and can cause the soil to release more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The statistics come from last week from Climate Central’s new tool, the Climate Change Index. Every day, we put a number on how climate change contributed (and sometimes didn’t) to daily high and low temperatures. The Climate Change Index gives us a new way to see how climate change is affecting the weather in the United States, and, as one early reviewer noted, it gives us “a radical new way to complain about the weather.”

As the summer of 2022 heats up, the Climate Change Index will not only give Americans a new way to complain about the weather, but a more specific one. At least for the coming decades, climate change will bear more and more of the blame for rising and rising temperatures.

Weather is inevitable, but climate change is not. While there may not be much governments can do to change the weather, stopping global warming is another story.

Burning fossil fuels releases pollutants into the atmosphere, and one of these pollutants – carbon dioxide – is the main driver of day and night warming. As long as carbon pollution continues, the planet will get hotter, and heat like the current and nighttime heat will occur more and more. But if emissions stop, so will warming. This means that policymakers ultimately control the world’s thermostat.

The Climate Change Index gives us a daily look at how to manage this thermostat. It’s still trending higher, and we’re feeling the effects today. And we can expect more and more of these days until governments and companies honor the commitments they have made to reduce carbon emissions and turn off the thermostat each year.

Andrew Pershing is director of climate sciences at Climate Central. He is an expert on how climate trends and events affect ecosystems and people, and most recently led the oceans and marine resources chapter in the United States’ Fourth National Climate Assessment. Follow him on Twitter: Tweet embed

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