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NATURE

No need for drought panic, professor says

drought
Drought conditions are par for the climatic course, according to Charles H.V. Ebert, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.   

August 11, 1999
Web posted at: 4:39 p.m. EDT (2039 GMT)

ENN



(ENN) -- The sweltering heat and record drought conditions consuming the mid-Atlantic United States are not a result of global warming but part of a normal climatic pattern, according to Charles H.V. Ebert, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. And if the human memory served us better, Ebert says, we would remember past droughts and wouldn't panic when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

"No, it's not global warming," said Ebert, State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Geography. "That could be occurring as well, of course, but based on 100,000 years of geological evidence, we just seem to be going through a warm phase of our climatology."

"We worry too much about this because our memories are short," said Ebert. "So every dramatic weather condition seems worse than it actually is. This may be the hottest July on record in many places, but there have been other very hot July's. Does anyone remember the terrible heat wave of the 1980s?"

Periods of intense or stalled weather conditions can be dangerous and sometimes cause serious economic deprivation in the affected region, Ebert points out. "But media attention, combined with our poor memories of past weather, tend to generate unjustified alarm for our climactic future," he says.

"People tend to take each unpleasant event thrown at us by Mother Nature worse than any they've ever experienced," said Ebert. "That's why we're always worried about what a particular hot spell 'means.' It means about what the last one meant."

While there are no written records of weather that go back for 100,000 years, Ebert says geological evidence shows this summer is just part of a general warming pattern that will be followed by a cooling pattern. This period of drought will be followed by a period of rain, then too much rain, and another weather panic, Ebert claims.

"We've had a spate of unusually hot weather that has built up slowly over the last few years and this year lasted longer than normal," Ebert admits. "But it's not a fluke. It's not unique. It has produced drought, but that was also to be expected based upon hundreds of years of recorded weather observations."
drought
Media attention, combined with our poor memories of past weather, tend to generate unjustified alarm for our climactic future, Ebert says   

"Drought occurs in almost every region on Earth on a somewhat regular basis," said Ebert. "Patterns of relatively wet, dry, hot or cold weather usually run in six- to eight-year cycles. Drought is a result of one to three years of particularly dry, hot weather that climaxes in a relative disaster in some form crop failure, dry wells and serious wind erosion. Then its time is up and the dryness abates. Drought doesn't last forever."

Ebert offers his explanation of the weather behind the drought. The jet stream, which usually moves in an "s" pattern, generating cool, then warm weather, has been running parallel to the Canadian border lately. This is drawing warm air masses from the southern Gulf regions and giving the Northeast a long taste of the South's tropical, maritime weather.

"But the jet stream will spring back to life again and life will return to normal," he says. "It will cool off, we'll get rain, then more rain, then more, and people will again worry about the rainy years as they have about the hot years."

And don't forget about the effects of El Niño and La Niña, which have probably aggravated the heat wave, said Ebert. And the meaning behind the name El Niño? It literally means "Christ Child," thus named by the Spaniards because the heavy rainfall it caused on the west coast of Peru and Ecuador every seven or eight years usually occurred at Christmas time, according to Ebert.

"So we have a stalled Gulf Stream and the effects of La Niña operating right now," he finalizes. "It's no wonder it's hot and dry."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved



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RELATED SITES:
National Drought Mitigation Center
State University of New York at Buffalo
StormFax Guide to Droughts
Interactive Weather Information Network by the National Weather Service
National Weather Service
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