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W.Va. among top 'extreme weather' states in 2012

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly 100 records for heat, rain and snow were set in counties across West Virginia last year, and the state ranked among the top 10 states for percentage of weather stations reporting such "extreme weather" events, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC report, released Tuesday, comes after one government report that found last year set an all-time record for average U.S. temperature and another government scientific report that warned climate change is already happening.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," said the 1,146-page draft National Climate Assessment, a scientific report issued Friday.

"Americans are noticing changes all around them," the report said. "Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has experienced.

"Winters are generally shorter and warmer," it said. "Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between."

Earlier last week, the National Climatic Data Center had reported that the average annual U.S. temperature was up to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit, a full degree warmer than the old record set in 1998.

Scientists say the U.S. heat and the extreme weather events are in part global warming in action, and that major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - such as carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants - are needed to avert the most damaging impacts.

In its report and an interactive map released Tuesday, the NRDC said that at least 93 record-breaking weather events occurred in West Virginia, including 53 new heat records and 17 new rainfall records.

The NRDC said that the 3,500 monthly weather records set in 2012 bested the 3,300 weather records smashed in 2011, with record-breaking extreme weather events occurring in every state.

"2012's unparalleled record-setting heat demonstrates what climate change looks like," said Kim Knowlton, an NRDC senior scientist. "This extreme weather has awoken communities across the country to the need for preparedness and protection."

Last week's National Climate Assessment, written by a team of 240 scientists is a draft of a report required every four years by law. The first such report was written in 2000, but none were done while George W. Bush was in office. The next one came out in 2009. Officials are seeking public comments for the next three months on the latest draft.

In his inaugural address Monday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin mentioned several extreme weather events in West Virginia last year, including last spring's tornado and floods, the derecho and Hurricane Sandy. The governor praised West Virginia's "strength of character" in responding to the storms.

After Hurricane Sandy, Tomblin did not respond to a question about climate change and extreme weather events, and the governor has questioned whether global warming is really occurring.

The National Climate Assessment says that "large parts of West Virginia" could experience more than a doubling of days per year, or about 15 more days per year, with temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s. The report said the increase in hot days "will impact the regions vulnerable populations, infrastructure and agriculture and ecosystems."

"Many impacts associated with these changes are important to Americans' health and livelihoods and the ecosystems that sustain us," the report said. "The impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures. "While some changes will bring potential benefits, such as longer growing seasons, many will be disruptive to society because our institutions and infrastructure have been designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the changing one of the present and future," it said. "Similarly, the natural ecosystems that sustain us will be challenged by changing conditions."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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