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Joe Bastardi / May 26, 2017

Is This Really the Worst Ever?

As summer approaches, let’s look at some comparisons and talk hurricanes.

As summer approaches, let’s look at some comparisons and talk hurricanes.

Let’s look at the past 10 summers.

Much of the U.S. is around 1 degree Fahrenheit above normal on average.

Now take a look at the summers of the 1930s.

While there are some places 0.5-1 F below normal, much of the nation’s midsection is 2-4 F above normal, which means arguably it was warmer then than the past 10 summers. The point is that when it comes to extremes, it looks worse in the 1930s.

Now keep in mind that we have had a lot of urban sprawl over the last 30 years. The South is much more populated. The satellite era of temperatures started in the late 1970s, so the same measuring techniques used today may have made the 1930s even hotter. We only know how hot it was based on thermometers. Satellites see all, which is one of my arguments as to why comparing temperatures over 120 years becomes a red herring since there was no way to measure temperatures the way we do now back in decades like the 1930s. Still, it has warmed in the past 30 years. I am not arguing that point. But saying it’s the warmest in 120 years when you did not measure temperatures the same way is questionable at best. And certainly the “worst ever” missives have reason for skepticism.

Let’s move to precipitation — and keep in mind, we had three major drought years in the past 10 in the nation’s midsection, But, lo and behold, the 10-year summer rain totals show nothing so extreme.

Doesn’t look that bad. What’s more, there is a lot of wet weather in the nation’s midsection where we can grow food to feed people. Looks more like a blessing than a curse.

For the record, the latest percentage of the nation covered by drought is at the lowest point ever recorded since this measuring tool was started in 2000.

Another case of climate extremes? Yeah. Extremely beneficial. Keep in mind that Florida in the last 10 years is above normal and one or two tropical systems could reverse the current dry area very quickly.

Now to the 1930s.

And you wonder why there was a dust bowl? Yes, it’s partly because of agricultural practices then, but this is flat out harsh!

The drought severity index reflects that. Now here’s something important: When you look at precipitation totals in the Southwest, they are not that far below normal. Yet the drought severity is greater, because when there is little rain on average, very slight deviations below normal will make the index in that area, relative to the area, greater. The evaporation rates are much higher also, so two inches below normal where there should be 10 inches of rain is a lot bigger deal than two inches below normal where there should be 60 inches. But let me concede the Southwest.

The fact is the heartland of the country where we grow food has been in great shape overall. You can’t have perfect weather everywhere; it’s inherent in nature to have conflict. “Average” can be a misnomer, occurring rarely, as the average is made up of the back and forth that one is likely to see in the weather and climate. To be that dry in the Southwest, it had to be compared to a 30-year average that must have been wetter at times. As you saw this past winter, wet can return very quickly.

But again, look at the drought severity of the 1930s.

So are the current times really as bad as it’s ever been, especially when one considers where the drought has occurred?

What about hurricanes? On the Saffir-Simpson scale, there have been no major hurricanes since 2005 to hit the U.S. Look at the 1930s.

That was followed by this in the ‘40s and '50s.

So when was it worse?

By the way, if you want to take a look at the upcoming hurricane season — and I do think there is a good chance of a major hit — check out our forecast here.

You know, when I was younger, my dad used to always say to me: “Joe, you would not believe how bad the weather was in the '30s, '40s and 50s.” I used to think, “Yeah right,” but I was bored with the weather so much that I went back and looked … and looked … and looked. And I found myself looking at events I still have trouble believing happened. So when someone says, “This is the worst ever,” believe me, there are plenty of examples of events and patterns that look comparable, and in many cases beyond what people say about today.

I close with a bit of philosophy from that great Long Island thinker, Billy Joel, from the song “Summer, Highland Falls”:

“They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known…”

If you are not acquainted with the past, then perhaps you think these are not the best of times, and maybe even worse than ever. But if you expand your vision and look, you will find that if you know other times, it puts it all in perspective.

From the same song: “For we are always what our situations hand us / Its either sadness or euphoria…”

There is a common thread to the extremes in life and nature. The elusive mid ground is apt to be just a stopping point for wild swings. You are euphoric when your team wins, but sadness sets in when they lose. Yet somehow it all balances out given time and man’s ability to adapt and progress. Leave it to me to see the linkage of weather and climate to rock and roll.


Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm, and contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues.

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