Three Tuesdays ago, right around lunch, dramatically dark clouds rolled in, wind whipped up the trees at the Schuylkill Center, and the skies opened up, dumping almost an inch and a half of rain on Roxborough within a very small window of time.
Then, the next day, on Wednesday, another storm rolled in, and this one stayed for a while, pounding Roxborough with 3.7 inches of rain, frankly a Biblical amount, the single largest soaking of the year to date. A massive puddle formed on Umbria; a lake pooled on Belmont Avenue underneath the train tracks on the Lower Merion side of the Green Lane bridge, compromising all those wishing to head home from Manayunk into Bala Cynwyd, forcing everyone (like me!) to turn around – during rush hour. I’m sure you know what happened elsewhere – trees down, roads closed, rivers rising.
With storms like this, it’s “deja vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra famously quipped.
And what was unusual has suddenly become commonplace – with the climate changing right before our eyes, we forget that a storm like that was once rare, even unexpected.
Welcome to the New Abnormal, with Philadelphia’s weather becoming increasingly hotter, wetter and weirder.
Weird, that is, compared to what we used to experience. Check this out: the state says that since 1950 – my lifespan, essentially – the Philadelphia region has seen a 360 percent spike in heavy downpours, almost a quadrupling. For a stretch of July, it seems there was almost one a day, almost like we were suddenly living in Florida. Our center’s rain gauge has tracked nine storms of an inch or more of water from June into early August. That’s a lot of big storms. Our weather data says we had more than 7inches of rainfall in July, making last month the second wettest July in 20 years of weather data here.
These storms are also weirdly localized. The Philadelphia Inquirer's weather almanac, found daily on the back of the paper’s Sports section, reports rainfall from the city’s official weather station located at the airport. There was no rain measured at the airport from that Tuesday storm, and only 1.63 inches of rain for the Wednesday one. So Roxborough was blessed with 3.5 more inches of rain than the airport in only two days. And while the city stood two weeks ago at 9.4 inches of rainfall above the average – it’s been a wet year – Roxborough is now likely even higher.
And we’re getting hotter. The last month also saw us suffer from many days of sweltering high 90s temperatures, the thermometer thinking about nudging 100 several times. Climate Central reports that Philadelphia’s average annual temperatures have increased more than 3 degrees since 1970, higher than the state as a whole (2.4 degrees) or even the U.S. (2.5 degrees), and their data indicates we now suffer 16.8 days – more than 2 weeks – of above-normal summer temperatures.
Oh, and that hot weather gave us several days earlier this summer with tornado watches and warnings, and several even spotted in the region. Once a rarity, tornadoes are more common in the New Abnormal.
Since 2000, Philadelphia has suffered 58 record high temperatures, but only five record lows. A Philadelphia Inquirer article last year reported that our temperatures rarely hit 90 degrees more than 40 times in one year, that happening only twice prior to 1987. But in the 11 years from 1987 to 2017, that happened seven times, and in 2010, the thermometer hit the 90-degree mark an astonishing 55 times.
By 2050, they say, our weather will resemble Richmond. By 2100, Brownsville, Texas. Welcome again to the New Abnormal.
Large thunderstorms spawning tornadoes (and throwing off high winds indicate large amounts of energy in the atmosphere-- and a hot atmosphere causes more water to evaporate into the sky, evaporating from the ground and bodies of water while also transpiring out of trees. Trees leak water into the sky (you were taught that in seventh grade science, a long time ago, I know). As the sky becomes saturated, that water falls out as precipitation-- and this summer has been downright Floridian. Not normal.
Ironically, just as I typed the sentence above in the late afternoon two Wednesdays ago, my cell phone buzzed at me, a FLASH FLOOD warning popping up as a text message. Those too are more common in the New Abnormal.
So as our atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration continues to rise, our weather here in Roxborough is getting hotter, wetter, and weirder.
Don’t you think we should do something about this?