More than 1 million West Virginians are living by flashlight at night and sweating through triple-digit heat by day. Large numbers of homes and cars are damaged. Food is spoiling in warm freezers and refrigerators. Life is disrupted. Appalachian Power says it will take all week to restore electricity to 318,000 homes and businesses in central counties, and FirstEnergy says the same for 300,000 more in the northern sector. With power out, newspapers are a chief source of information (except in cities where presses lack power).
The bizarre tempest called a "derecho" began in Iowa and was magnified by intense heat over Illinois. It clocked hurricane-force 90-mph gusts in Indiana and barreled as fast as a speeding car across Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia to the East Coast. Charleston had gusts up to 78 mph. More than a dozen people were killed along the eastbound route, mostly by falling trees. Disasters have been declared everywhere.
As the state recovers from the extreme Friday night blast, it's a good occasion to ask again whether violent storms are linked to global warming.
All scientists agree that hotter air holds more moisture, breeding more severe weather. Thousands of scientists say man-made air pollution from fossil fuels has created a "greenhouse" layer in the sky, trapping heat near the planet's surface, melting polar ice, raising sea levels, triggering worse tornados and hurricanes, causing horrific floods -- and oddly causing droughts in some regions. (But the coal, oil and gas industries, plus many industry-beholden politicians, deny it.)
Three months ago, the U.N.'s Nobel Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change issued a blunt 594-page study saying the heat-up will cost many lives and trillions of dollars. An Associated Press report began:
"Global warming is leading to such severe storms, droughts and heat waves that nations should prepare for an unprecedented onslaught of deadly and costly weather disasters ... . Noticeable extreme weather changes lately have been costing on average about $80 billion a year in damage."
The U.N. study predicted that rising seas will imperil vast coastal stretches where millions of Americans live. It noted that a major 2008 storm in Myanmar (formerly Burma) killed 138,000.As West Virginia copes with this latest weather nightmare, people should give intelligent consideration to all evidence related to climate change.