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Kinetic Maps Show Our New “Climate Normal,” And It’s Bad News

A series of maps show just how much the climate has changed since 1901 — and it's not great news.

There’s no doubt that climate change is here. The planet has warmed dramatically over the last few decades and many experts point to the next few years as a key time for the future of the planet.

Drastic measures to curb global warming are needed in order to mitigate the damage our children and grandchildren will feel in the future — but in many senses, the new climate is already here.

Stark evidence of this comes in a new kinetic climate map. The New York Times reported on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s newest “climate normals,” data that is updated by the NOAA every 10 years. In practical terms, per the Grey Lady, the data is mostly used by meteorologists when giving relational information about previous climate patterns. 

In other words, meteorologists use it to put daily weather in context. But for the NOAA, the data is best looked at from a long-term perspective — and it shows just how much the climate has changed in the past 120 years, and just how drastically it’s changed just in the last several decades.

The series of maps reveals just how much the average temperature, rainfall, and other weather data have changed across the country. Starting in 1901, and ending in 2020, by showing data sets of 30 years at a time, the map reveals that the climate has changed dramatically across the country as a result of greenhouse gases, and associated changes with temperature, moisture, weather patterns, and more.

The new temperature “normals” have risen steadily every 10 years. A researcher on the project, Dr. Michael Palecki, said: “Almost every place in the U.S. has warmed.”

But it’s not just a warming planet the United States is dealing with: it’s also one that is changing in terms of wetness.

While the Southwest, like Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and West Texas, among other states, have become much drier than it was about 40 years ago, just about the whole other region of the country is much, much wetter than it used to be, showing changing climate patterns and increasing weather severity as the planet warms. 

But what good do these maps do to normal people, who are simply trying to get through the day? Not much. Similarly to an interactive map created by the Rhodium Group in partnership with ProPublica that showed that by 2040, changing climates — including warming temperatures, changing weather patterns, and more — will drive everyone northward. In fact, by 2070, much of the Southeast will become way less suitable for human life — that is, the temperature and precipitation levels that help us thrive. (And these scenarios were created just under moderate emissions scenarios.) 

So, if you’re feeling thoroughly depressed by the whole thing, that feels like a fair takeaway. But at the end of the day, the future is not determined — and drastic action can be taken to fight the warming planet and ensure that we have an Earth worth living on. 

The interactive maps can be seen here, at the New York Times.