Opinion: The Tri-State Area Saw Lots of Abnormal Weather in 2021. It’s Here to Stay. By Jonathan Murray

Opinion: The Tri-State Area Saw Lots of Abnormal Weather in 2021. It’s Here to Stay.

By Jonathan Murray

 The phrase “climate change” takes on different meanings for different people. People in Miami Beach may be worried about rising sea levels, others in Arizona may fear extreme heat, while others in Kansas may fear a vicious tornado season. However, one thing is for sure - science is telling us that climate change is occurring at an increasingly fast rate, and we’re starting to feel the effects. In the tri-state area, the largest metropolitan area in the country and home to over 23 million people, climate change impacted daily life in a variety of ways in 2021. 

Man, this summer was hot! 

In New Jersey, 2021 made the history books for the sixth hottest summer on record, according to NJ State Climatologist David Robinson. Heat waves consistently reached over 95 degrees, with “RealFeel” temperatures reaching over 105 degrees on a few occasions. 

And it wasn’t just like this during the summer in New Jersey and the tri-state area. New Jersey tied for its third-highest statewide temperature annually this year, compared to 120 years of this data being recorded. Even more fascinating is the fact that daily low temperatures have been increasing rapidly from year-to-year in NJ, according to NJ.com. 

Robinson notes that “[O]ver the past 40 years, minimums have risen at a rate of about 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, with maxes rising at a 0.5 degrees per decade.” 

Moreover, many have observed the increase in temperature swings from day to day. Temperature conditions felt more unpredictable in NJ this year, owing to volatile atmospheric conditions. 

“One day it’s 30 degrees, the next day 65, and then it drops to 20 the day after,” a FLHS sophomore said. 

Robinson asserts that evidence like this is “absolute evidence” that New Jersey’s climate is warming. 

Water Levels Are Creeping Up 

Due to this temperature rise, water is also rising rapidly as ice caps melt swiftly. The tri-state area is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, according to climate experts at Rutgers. From 126 miles of Jersey Shore coastline to Long Island, sea level rise is a direct threat. Effects of this have already been seen in cities like Atlantic City, which has been experiencing a phenomenon dubbed “sunny-day flooding,” or when high-tide causes flooding in a city. In the 1950’s, Atlantic City saw less than one of these a year, but in 2021, that number was up to eight days a year, according to the NJ Climate Research Center. 

If action is not taken, sea level rises by 2100 could be up to 6 feet, according to some climate scientists, which would be catastrophic. 

In reference to the Jersey Shore, Brigantine resident Lynn Brady said, “[O]ne hundred years from now, this island could be a lot thinner.” 

Tornado Warning 

If you’re a NJ resident and remember turning on the news to hear about a “tornado outbreak,” you may have been surprised. What? You may have thought. This isn’t Oklahoma! Tornado outbreak? Yet, this was the reality for many people in New Jersey this summer. 

New Jersey had 11 confirmed tornadoes in 2021, the most tornadoes NJ has recorded since 1987 (19), according to the National Weather Service.  

More abnormal was the shocking severity of these tornadoes. Many tornadoes in New Jersey and surrounding areas tend to be quite weak and touch down for a mile at most, due to a lack of moisture and other components in our area. But, NJ saw an EF3 tornado this year, which is rare in Tornado Alley, let alone NJ. 

Reza Marsooli, a Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Ocean Engineering states, “The number of tornadoes we are seeing in the past few months, it’s very alarming. Definitely it’s a sign that the climate is changing.” 

The Worst Tropical Event Since Hurricane Sandy 

New Jersey has seen an unusual amount and magnitude of tropical weather in 2021. We first faced the remnants from Tropical Storm Fred, which spawned a tornado in Rockaway, NJ, and dropped 2-4 inches of rain in parts of NJ. Moreover, NJ faced Tropical Storm Elsa, which actually saw a hurricane force wind gust in Sea Isle City, NJ, at 79 mph. Tornadoes were also felt from this storm. Then, New Jersey saw tropical storm Henri, which dropped over 9 inches of rain in parts of Middlesex County. 

But that is not what many New Jerseyans remember when they think of tropical weather. Instead, they think of Tropical Storm Ida’s remnants, which came through in September. Record flooding plagued NJ, with a widespread 6-10 inches falling on some of the state’s most populated areas in several hours, even pushing some NJ school districts to use snow days due to forced closures. Then came NJ’s first EF-3 tornado since 1990, associated with Ida, in Mullica Hill, which wreaked havoc on the town with winds of 150 mph.

“Global warming made Ida a little stronger, because the ocean that fueled it was warmer,” said Rutgers science professor Alan Robock. 

Over 30 people died from Tropical Storm Ida, making it the deadliest storm since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Governor Murphy said that Ida caused, “One extraordinary, sadly, tragic, historic 24 hours in New Jersey. There’s no other way to put it.” 

Current Actions Being Taken 

The state of New Jersey has taken a myriad of actions in order to both prevent future climate change and mitigate current effects, especially in recent times. This includes Senate Bill 2607, which was enacted by New Jersey in February 2021, changing the requirements for master plans of buildings relating to climate change risks. In October of 2021, NJ and Governor Murphy released its new Climate Change Resilience Strategy, NJ’s first statewide example of a climate adaptation plan. 

“Through these aggressive actions, New Jersey will drive a world-leading innovation economy that invests in people and communities, ensures environmental justice for all residents, creates good-paying jobs, protects diverse vulnerable ecosystems, improves public health, and leads the way in the global clean-energy transition,” said Murphy while discussing the plan. 

A Final Plea 

Every tri-state area resident should be paying attention to climate change, as the impacts of climate change will appear in a multitude of forms all across the area. A sea level rise may not affect Sussex County, NJ, but rising temperatures could damage crops, which is a major industry in the North-West portion of the state. A businessman living in Chicago might not feel the effects of climate change directly until sea level rise threatens Wall Street. 

According to studies performed by the Sustainable Jersey Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, by the 2080s, temperature in the Northeast will increase from 4.0 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, sea levels are going to increase by up to 1.8 meters by 2100, leaving much of New Jersey’s coast underwater. Right now, climate change’s effects largely cause a bit of discomfort for most. However, if nothing is done to combat this growing threat, that discomfort could soon turn catastrophic in 50 years.

 

As the former president of France Francois Hollande has said, “We have a single mission: to protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.”

Header credit: UNEP

Thumbnail credit: Health + Safety Magazine

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