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Earth Sense: Wet summer not directly linked to climate shift
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Anybody hoping for another dry, parched summer this season must have been disappointed.

In the first two-thirds of July, Gainesville received 8.27 inches of rain. In June, the total for the month was 6.38 inches. That’s more than was received in some places normally known for heavy summer rains, such as Islamabad (Pakistan), Delhi (India) and Dhaka (Bangladesh).

In the U.S. Southeast, it’s the Bermuda High that can determine whether we have drought or rain. This summer, it expanded strongly from its position out on the Atlantic Ocean near 30 degrees of latitude. In July, it pushed westward so hard that the dry, hot high pressure that’s normally centered of the U.S. Southwest was displaced, and rain helped cool some places in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona that had been suffering from sweltering heat.

In Georgia, the Bermuda High brought thunderstorms with its clockwise rotation. On Google Earth, at times it looked like a giant water wheel, pushing moisture northward into our area.

Just like the drought episodes of previous years, some bloggers were quick to attribute this situation to global climatic change. But shifts in the large high-pressure cells that inhabit our oceans and changes in the jet stream that govern the travel of storms on the continent, occur all the time.

Even the record-setting 129-degree heat in Death Valley on June 30 wasn’t a sure-fire indicator of global warming, because 100 years ago the mercury rose to 134 there. Current weather records show that climates are adjusting to the higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, but this doesn’t mean warmer weather, more drought or rainier weather all the time. It means more changeable weather.

North Georgia will see drought again, and also rainy periods, just as it has in the past. The changes in the atmosphere will add more events toward the extreme ends of the scale. The bottom line is not to expect all-hot weather in Georgia, or all-cold conditions in winter, but a greater mix of both.

The best safeguard against further climatic change is conservation. Reducing emissions from power plants, air planes and road traffic cuts down on air pollution as well as the effect from greenhouse gases. Telecommuting reduces road traffic, with less stress on people driving out there. Saving electricity at home fights global warming, but also comes with the bonus of lower energy bills.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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