ENVIRONMENT
08/16/2016 01:31 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2017

2016 Is Already A Year Of Historic U.S. Weather Events

The Louisiana flooding is only the latest climate nightmare.
Emergency crews take out boats on a flooded I-79 at the Clendenin Exit, after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of ra
Handout . / Reuters
Emergency crews take out boats on a flooded I-79 at the Clendenin Exit, after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighboring communities, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, June 24, 2016.

Just a little over halfway into 2016 and this year is shaping up to be another defined by extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least eight people have died in catastrophic flooding in south Louisiana after heavy rains that started Friday submerged entire communities: More than 20,000 people needed to be rescued.  

“Nothing has ever happened like this before. We didn’t think it was going to do this,” Baton Rouge resident Emily Henderson, 63, told The Huffington Post. 

“It hasn’t hit me yet that we’ve lost our house, our car, our truck and all our furniture,” she said. “We did not have flood insurance. Our insurance agent had told us, ‘You don’t live in a flood zone, so you don’t need it.’”

Below are some of this year’s other deadly climate catastrophes. 

West Virginia floods

In June, West Virginia experienced its worst flooding in more than a century and with at least 26 fatalities, the highest death toll of all the states that experienced flooding this year. 

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) declared a state of emergency in 44 of 55 counties: The flood damaged or destroyed more than 1,200 homes.

Climate change likely contributes to making these storms and floods worse, scientists say. When the atmosphere is warmer, it holds more moisture.

“When the right weather system comes along,” Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told HuffPost following 2015’s floods in Utah and Arizona, “that weather system can be thought of as a device for reaching out — quite a ways at times — and grabbing the available moisture and bringing it in and dumping it down.”

Texas floods

Texas was inundated with three major rainfalls in first half of 2016, killing more than a dozen people in flash floods.

One major river even swelled to levels not seen in over a century.

Scientists also pointed to a more moisture-heavy atmosphere.

“The thing that has been unusual about this, the past few weeks, is the amount of rain that we’ve seen,” Melissa Huffman, a meteorologist with Houston’s National Weather Service, told HuffPost at the time. “We’ve basically had, for lack of a better word, a very juicy atmosphere … which has been producing a lot of rain in a very short period of time.”

California wildfires

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said last month that twice as many acres had burned in the state this year than had burned during the same period last year. As of last week, 3,874 fires have burned 112,950 acres in California, the agency reported. 

Aurora Harris Heller, 62, left, comforts the owner of a house destroyed in Sand Fire in Santa Clarita, July 26, 201
Irfan Khan via Getty Images
Aurora Harris Heller, 62, left, comforts the owner of a house destroyed in Sand Fire in Santa Clarita, July 26, 2016 .

Major wildfires include the Central Coast’s Soberanes Fire which is still only 60 percent contained and is the largest of the year so far with over 74,000 acres burned; the 48,000-acre Erskine Fire in Kern County in June; and the 41,000-acre Sand Fire in Los Angeles County. Those three fires have claimed five lives so far.  

Flames climb Williams Canyon during the Soberanes Fire near Carmel Valley, California, July 29, 2016.
Michael Fiala/Reuters
Flames climb Williams Canyon during the Soberanes Fire near Carmel Valley, California, July 29, 2016.

With climate change-driven drought and high temperatures leaving California’s forests tinder dry and primed for out-of-control blazes, 2016 may go down as one of the state’s worst wildfire seasons.

Arizona heatwave

In June, triple-digit degrees scorched the Southwest, setting several temperature records in Arizona towns and killing four hikers in separate incidents. 

On June 19, temperature records for that calendar day were set in Yuma at 120 degrees, Phoenix at 118, Tucson at 115 and Flagstaff at 93, NOAA spokeswoman Maureen O’Leary told HuffPost. Tucson’s heat that day tied for the third hottest every recorded in the city.  

This heat was a clear sign of climate change at work, according to scientists.  

“[W]hat used to be a regular heat wave now has extra oomph, and the danger is not just heat,” but also wildfire risk, Trenberth told HuffPost. 

“If we continue with business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels,” Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist and professor of meteorology at Penn State University, told HuffPost, “by mid-century what we think of as extreme summer heat today will become a typical summer day.”

Northeast heatwaves

In late July, temperatures floated in the mid-to-high 90s across the northeast for days, plaguing the New York tri-state area, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C. and beyond. 

Another heatwave still ongoing in the region has killed four people in Philadelphia as of this week.  

A man cools down in a fountain ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 24, 2016.
John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man cools down in a fountain ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 24, 2016.

We should get used to summer days like that if we don’t alter our behavior, scientists warn. 

Mann pointed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as an example. During the late 20th century the city averaged less than one day a year with temperatures over 100 degrees, he said in an email to HuffPost, but by the end of this century, “the models tell us we’ll see more than 30 days (yes, a solid month) a year of 100F+ days.”

Winter Storm Jonas

January’s epic Winter Storm Jonas set multiple snowfall records in the East.

Plowed piles of snow block parking spaces on the roof of a parking garage in Washington, DC, Jan. 26, 2016.
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
Plowed piles of snow block parking spaces on the roof of a parking garage in Washington, DC, Jan. 26, 2016.

It was the single biggest snowstorm on record in at least six locations, according to The Weather Channel’s records: Allentown, Pennsylvania, with 31.9 inches; Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland with 29.2 inches; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with 30.2 inches; New York City’s Central Park with 27.5 inches; New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 27.9 inches; and New York’s JFK Airport with 30.5 inches.

People walk on snow as winter storm Jonas hits New York, Jan. 23, 2016.
Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
People walk on snow as winter storm Jonas hits New York, Jan. 23, 2016.

It fell just short of setting records in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia.

The blizzard affected roughly 102.8 million people, covered about 434,000 square miles in 26 states and killed at least 50 people.

Studies have found evidence suggesting climate change is driving shifts in the jet stream, which may slow storms down and give them more time to drop snow in one place.

“A storm that might have moved across the Northeast in 24 hours may now take 48 hours,” David Easterling, chief of the Global Climate Applications Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center told HuffPost. “It has a chance to dump a lot of snow as it moves across the region.”

David Lohr contributed reporting. 

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