2011 certainly was an interesting one in terms of weather.  After record snowpack in the Rockies, the current winter has many wondering what is in store for the ski season this year.  It may be hard to remember, but August was one of the hottest on record in the Denver metro area.  Nationally, after the eastern seaboard shook off tropical storm Irene, a late fall snowstorm had people digging out.  Now, those Northeast backdrops for the GOP Presidential Candidates have something very unusual – no snow.  With all of these atypical weather patterns, it is a good time to discuss the concept of “Global Weirding”.

Global Weirding is a term that has been used to help explain a wide range of weather events that may be related to the rise in global temperatures.  These events may include violent storms, heavier snowfall, flooding, heat waves, and drought.  Further, these may trigger or aid in the spread of other events such as flooding, fires, and even economic loss.  Here is a reminder of some of the other weather and environmental extremes from 2011:

  • Record heat across the majority of Texas
  • Extreme drought conditions from Arizona across the gulf coast and into Georgia
  • Significant, if not record, wildfires in Arizona and Texas
  • Record flooding along the Mississippi river basin
  • An EF5 tornado with a 300 yard-wide eye that cut a destructive path through Joplin, MO
  • Extreme drought in the southeast corner of Colorado
  • Duststorms in Phoenix, AZ that stretched 100 miles long and thousands of miles high
  • Record blizzards in the Northeast the last two years

Often lost in the memory of these events is the cumulative national, regional, and personal cost that they incur.  However, the impact is not limited to just large weather events.  Long standing traditions and regional patterns based on seasons can be effected.  More often, we seem to be hearing anecdotal stories of unexpected weather, flowers blooming early, or even plants growing in regions where they formerly did not.  It may be difficult to pin any one of these smaller environmental events as weird, or even as a specific sign of climate change.  However, cumulative events across a region can begin to take on that effect.  These smaller impacts may be subtle, but the broader economic impact of the change can be significant.  A recent Associated Press article notes the impact of current weather on winter tourism on areas in Maine, New Hampshire, and upstate New York that simply have no snow.  Even here in Colorado, the tubing hills are seeing increased business, while many ski areas have bases only now approaching 24”. Obviously, the weather can quickly change with a series of spring storms, but more direct personal impacts are already happening.

So, what do we make of all this?  It may be years before we can track some of the recent patterns.  However, some indicators are already occurring. Nevertheless, taking the extremes of the past five years, it is possible to make a connection with ‘Global Weirding’ starting to occur across the country and the world.  Time will tell about what impacts these events may have on how we, as architects, analyze the local conditions for our buildings.  Despite the ongoing effort to politicize the debate about climate change and frame it away from scientific findings, these are issues worthy of our consideration.  How soon we’ll have to deal with them depends on how “weird” you think it is going to get!

By Alan Doggett