By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

March came in like a lion. A fire-breathing, saliva-dripping, panting lion. A lion whom certainly sought shade if she lived in the continental US where temperatures blasted through records faster than you can say Happy St. Pat’s.

Spring brings daisies earlier than ever.

The heat, according to the news reports, was “unprecedented,” (Where have we heard this before? Oh yeah, last summer) with some 7,000 heat records being set or tied in the US, according to the US National Climatic Weather Center.

That’s a bit of a cheat, because cities and towns are counted repeatedly as they break records on successive days. Each daytime high, and each overnight low or minimum temperature that’s surpassed is counted, so one city’s heat streak can chalk up several broken records.

Still, 7,000 records broken!?

I’ve come to expect it in Texas, but where else is this happening? Apparently, nearly everywhere in the Eastern half of the country. Chicago, Minneapolis and Indianapolis are all on course to experience their warmest March (by several degrees) since records have been kept; New York City seems certain to record a record-breaker with the warmest or second warmest March of modern times, according to The Weather Channel.

The Midwest was consistently warm for nearly two weeks, but at times temperatures in the upper 70s and 80s stretched across the US, from Plymouth, Mass., to Sheridan, Wyo.

Dr. Jeff Masters, a Michigan meteorologist who runs the WunderBlog,says the 10-day string of warm weather in the US and Canada was off the charts.

“Since record keeping began in the late 1800s, there have never been so many spring temperature records broken, and by such a large margin. Airports in fifteen different states have set all-time records for March warmth, which is truly extraordinary considering that the records were set in the middle of the month, instead of the end of the month.

Noting that Michigan broke its all-time record of 89 degrees for March when it hit 90 in Lapeer, Masters marveled: “The duration, areal [area] size, and intensity of the Summer in March, 2012 heat wave are simply off-scale…”

A cold front is chilling the Upper Midwest and Northeast as I write this, bringing more seasonable weather that will moderate the March high temperature records.

And yet I cannot help but wonder what’s next? What will May, June, July and August bring?

Does the warm beginning to 2012, ratchet up the stakes for the rest of the year? Will the summer sizzle with record-breaking heat as it has during the majority of years in the 21st Century?

These are the questions that will keep us watching our local weather casts and checking the Internet for the daily rundown. But will we  accept that this undeniable pattern of warmer weather heralds a quickening of climate change?

Will we begin to act on that information, not just to adapt to it, but to try to mitigate this unparalleled lurch by the planet toward a climate that may radically alter not just our coast lines but plant and animal life across the globe?

These are the big questions. Count me worried.

Starting in late February – which also was a warmer than average month in most US locations – several people annoyingly remarked on the fine weather we were having and what a nice break it was to get outside.

Pardon my Minnesota-upbringing, but what winter? What break? December, January and February were indiscernible from each other and abnormally mild. It was “sweater weather” for maybe a week in Dallas. Even a week-long trip to the Midwest brought only one day in which I had to scrape the windshield. Not that I miss scraping windshields. But let’s consider the larger portent.

Call me one of those hand-wringing climate alarmists. Or better yet, call me someone who’s just read Dr. James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren, which explains precisely, if sometimes obtusely, why Earth’s climate is changing  and why we might want to cling the moderate, relatively warm but with just the right amount of ice-maintaining cool climate we have had for the last 7,000 years. (Hmmm, was that when human civilization began?)

Maybe headlines like “7,000 heat records broken” just don’t grab us anymore. Maybe we’re numb because of all the wildfire, drought, species extinction and forest-annihilation stories piling up. Psychologists would not be surprised if we met this grim reality with disbelief; if like prisoners of a problem we helped create, we disengaged.

I wonder, what it will take for people to adopt a sense of urgency about climate change?

Dr. Hansen’s book contains a stern warning. If we wait for the headlines that will come farther down the road — “Ocean surge inundates New York subway system”….”Florida aquifers contaminated by ocean salt water”…”Arctic ice vanishes”…”Fisheries collapse”… — it will likely be too late.

As Bill McKibben has said this month, we need to connect the dots.

(More to come on the topic of what individuals can do to slow climate change….)

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