Summer’s heat wave: A sign of warmer years ahead?

State climatologist Jeff Andresen explains how this summer’s heat wave is related to climate change and MSU Extension offers a series of fact sheets on climate change.

This summer’s continuing heat wave and drought has many Michiganders actually looking forward to winter. Many have pointed to these weather events as evidence of climate change.

A common misconception is that “weather” and “climate” are terms that can be used interchangeably, but in fact they are two different things. Both climate and weather refer to variables such as temperature, precipitation and winds, but on different time scales. Weather is associated with short time periods, such as days and hours. Climate, on the other hand, deals with much longer periods of time, such as multiple decades or centuries.

According to Jeff Andresen, state climatologist and associate professor in Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Geography, the heat waves and the drought are not a direct result of climate change. They are a part of the natural variability of regional weather and in our Mid-latitudes location, the behavior of the jet stream. However, there is evidence that the Earth’s changing climate does make these extreme events worse and occur more frequently. The weather we have experienced recently is also consistent with climate change projections and should be a cause for concern, said Andresen.

Over the past 100 years, Michigan’s climate has become warmer. Since January of this year, Michigan temperatures have been above the average by 6.2 degrees F, and it doesn’t stop there. Projections suggest that Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region will continue to become warmer by several degrees during the next 50 to 100 years.

Michigan is not the only place experiencing this rise in temperature. Most regions of the world have seen an increased rate of warming since the 1970s. Scientists have documented that most of the warming is associated with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are in fact increasing Earth’s temperature.

For more information on climate change, download Climate Basics (E-3151) free of charge from the MSU Extension Bookstore and the KBS LTER website. Climate Basics introduces readers to the Earth’s complex climate system with a focus on the natural and human-induced causes of Earth’s changing climate. Climate Basics is a part of a fact series about climate and agriculture; PDF versions of Frequently Asked Questions About Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas Basics, and Field Crop Agriculture and Climate Change are available in both English and Spanish from the websites listed above.

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