Weather instruments have evolved from the simple thermometers, anemometers and rain gauges of old to the more advanced technology of satellites and radars. Improvements continue to be made in the field of meteorology, allowing for accurate weather reporting and creating a growing database for observing climate patterns.
In Oklahoma, “mesonet” stations house lofty towers that broadcast an uninterrupted stream of environmental observations to the general public at no more than a 15 minute delay. These towers collect comprehensive data on factors such as pressure, temperature, moisture and solar radiation to create a holistic view of the current environmental conditions. Data from meteorological tools such as the satellites atop these towers can supply us with far more valuable knowledge than just how warmly to dress today or if school will be cancelled tomorrow.
The goal for this data collection is not only to create a weather forecast, but also to develop models that can provide essential information about impending climate conditions. Weather models give an idea of short-term temperature and precipitation, while climate models measure past average conditions in an area to predict the future on a larger scale. Prior knowledge of catastrophic events including floods, droughts or wildfires in a region could help prepare its inhabitants and limit the amount of potential damage caused. Meteorological forecasts can also help track and address repeated climate-controlled events such as heat waves in Phoenix or seasonal Dengue fever in Singapore.
While these are ideal examples of how climate data can be utilized, the proper steps to addressing an environmental dilemma are not always readily taken after a prediction is made. In 2016, climate data was used to foresee the future rise in mosquito populations in southern Florida and southern Texas that would increase the presence of the Zika virus. This information was spread nationally, but no public health initiatives were implemented to combat the issue. With the progress being made on climate data collecting and climate predicting tools there must also come information on what they can provide.
Meteorological models extend beyond the predictions made for a specific city, state or nation; they currently also attempt to predict the climate change affecting our globe on a whole. These models have proved successful in predicting past climate changes and should thus be trusted to show future change. Additionally, climate models have pinpointed the cause of these changes: Humans. Rising carbon dioxide levels and greenhouse gas emissions released by humans have been linked to melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures and sea levels. The models show that if human activity continues at this rate, the fate of the globe is dire. The natural disasters that have been occurring with such alarming frequency will likely only increase in prevalence and severity.
The largest issue with these models, however, is that they can never be 100 percent reliable. The models suggest probable changes in environmental conditions based on past data and human activity, but we can never be certain which models will accurately foretell the correct conditions until after the fact. Nevertheless, if we know that harmful gas emissions have proved detrimental to global environmental conditions in the past and therefore suspect that they will continue to do so in the future, it is only wise to limit them. The harm that could be caused by ignoring the models will far outweigh any repercussions that may arise from heeding their warning and being better stewards of our environment. As climate data and climate models grow more accurate, we as humans should grow more aware of the information they hold and intervene to protect our planet.
Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.