This story is part of Grist’s 2021 comic book recap – an illustrated look back at some of the greatest climate histories of the year. Read the other part here.
2021 was a parade year for extreme weather. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest events of the year – and the role climate played in them.
In February, a Texas winter storm left over 4 million days without power – killing 210 people, or up to 702, according to an independent analysis by Buzzfeed.
The link between climate change and extreme cold is controversial, but some researchers suggest that the warming of the Arctic may weaken the polar vortex, causing cold air pockets to migrate further south.
In May, Lake Charles, Louisiana, was hit by a “once a century” rainstorm that poured 15 inches of rain (more than Hurricane Delta or Laura) on a city that was already three in 2020 Hit by hurricanes.
Extreme weather could already drive climate migration in the US – a form of controlled retreat. For example, the population of Lake Charles fell 6.7 percent as residents moved away from the city.
Climate change makes storms like Ida stronger and wetter as they move across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In September, Hurricane Ida devastated Louisiana as a Category 4 storm and its remains brought deadly flooding to New England.
Over the summer, the west was hit by a sustained mega-drought and mega-heat waves, both fueled by climate change and exposing 40 million people in the normally temperate Pacific Northwest to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees in the United States alone.
Fire comes in dry conditions. While the fires didn’t burn as many acres in 2021 as they did in last year’s record season, California’s Dixie Fire was the second largest in the state’s history.
Fires in Canada and the west shrouded the country in smoke, darkened the skies in the Midwest and the east coast, and brought in particulate matter that is harmful to respiratory health.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the effects of extreme weather conditions. And in a year of disasters, the concept of “natural disaster” could fall out the window – according to Google Ngram, which tracks how often terms are used in books, the term’s use has decreased over the past decade.
The “natural” in “natural disaster” can obscure both the role of climate change and the inequality in fueling the effects of extreme weather conditions; The more climate change fuels extreme weather conditions, the more “unnatural” disasters there will be.