Warming Stripes: Where Did They Come From and What Exactly Do They Mean? (Credit: Climate Central)
The week leading up to the Summer Solstice marked the second year that meteorologists across the world took to twitter through #MetsUnite in an effort to educate the public on the perils of climate change. The movement started based off the promotion of Ed Hawkins’ Warming Stripes—a stunning visual representation of the earth’s warming atmosphere through the use of stripes representing the annual temperature for every year since record-keeping began. While atmospheric science professionals worldwide donned earrings and pins laced with the stripes, some members of the public asked: what is the origin of these warming stripes, and what exactly do they mean?
Based on modern day science, many in the meteorology community have concluded that the earth’s average annual temperature is warming. This is old news. However, deciphering this data for the public can be difficult and overwhelming. Visual representations of climate science are often the best and most efficient way to grab the public’s attention when it comes to this heavy-duty science. Originally, Hawkins had only published warming stripes graphics for a handful of European cities and countries. However, in the past year, Hawkins, a scientist at Climate Central, was able to expand the graphics to cities, states, and countries worldwide, including many U.S. states and cities. Climate Central normally publicizes data for a hand-picked 244 U.S. cities that represent a variety of regional climates; this year, they made warming stripes available for 160 of those 244 cities. The chosen cities were based on available annual average temperature records for various regions, so for cities that didn’t have sufficient data (data needed to date back to the mid-19th Century) you can search for warming stripes in a nearby city, or any of the 50 states.
The warming stripes that were created this year very closely followed Climate Central’s Earth Day report on the fastest warming cities and states. The stripes indicated that cities in the Southwest, Northeast, and Alaska were the fastest warming, consistent with the aforementioned Earth Day climate report. This is an important observation given the many effects increased temperatures can have on our average climate; more extreme blizzards, severe thunderstorms, wildfires… sadly, the list goes on. It is remarkably important that meteorologists, from the broadcast sector, to research, continue to not only promote warming stripes, but climate science in general since this is the data worked with. Meteorologists in research are those who curate the data; those in the private sector may use the data to analyze the risk in poses to private consumers and the public; and broadcast meteorologists, often the only scientists much of the public come into contact with on a daily basis, report the data and make it known to the public. If meteorologists in various sectors continue to work together in the climate science field, we may just be able to make sure this is an issue we, as a united society, can confront and solve together.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger
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