It was Christmas Day, so I was in Ville Platte (pop. 7,430). It was a horrendously hot 80 degrees. The winter air was so thick, concrete was sweating.
I was visiting my grandparents, who live in Ville Platte all their lives. I opened the door to their home and smelled the popcorn-like aroma of my uncle making a sauce. He throws in oysters, crawfish tails, crab meat, shrimp and enough salt to stop your heart to make our family’s version of Louisiana’s signature dish, gumbo.
Gumbo marks the passage in Louisiana’s time in a serious manner. Every Louisianian I’ve spoken to knows what I mean if I say “gumbo weather.” In my mind, it’s a Saturday in November. The air is a little crisp, and it’s finally time to put on that LSU fleece jacket and head to the Parade Grounds for a tailgate. There, my neighbor’s dad will be serving gumbo from a pot half the size of a bathtub.
But gumbo weather is coming later and later, and though I’m a climate scientist, I’m not the only one who notices. Two years ago, my mom and I were complaining about another unseasonably warm Christmas when she said, “I think it used to get colder earlier. Your grandpa would wear thick wool coats to LSU games, even in September.”
The data shows my mom is right, and there’s a lesson there about how global warming is changing the way we live. It’s not just the summers that are getting hotter — the most severe warming on Earth is occurring during winter. Climate projections suggest that gumbo weather could be the future.
It is difficult to determine the exact threshold for gumbo-weather, but my grandfather believes it is lower than 50 degrees. It is not surprising that climate projections will show less gumbo in the years to come if a day is considered to have gumboweather if its high temperature falls below 50 degrees.
The most Today’s severe warming is concentrated at higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere since there’s so much land sitting up there. We hear a lot about oceans getting warmer — and they certainly are — but Earth’s land is warming nearly twice as fast. Winter warming is enhanced by positive feedback between warmer temperatures, snowmelt, and other factors. Because it’s white, snow has a high albedoIt is reflective of a lot more heat from the sun into space, The snowpack is shrinking due to warmer days and human CO2 emissions. The Earth absorbs all the sunlight that the snow used to reflect, which accelerates warming. Even though Louisiana doesn’t get much snow, the general circulation of the atmosphere means the state experiences all the higher-latitude warming. Humid places experience higher temperatures in summer than winter. Warm air can hold exponentially more moistureThis moisture is resistant to temperature change, just like the ocean. The result is longer winters with warmer winters, and 90-100 degree weather for more months.
You can see the results by transforming your climate data and looking for how. ProbabilityNew Orleans will have a day with highs of 40 degrees. Gumbo weather today is 40 percent less common than it was in my grandfather’s era, and it will soon be even rarer: By 2050, there will be a projected 25 percent fewer potential gumbo days — that is, days with a high below 50 degrees — than in the late 20th century.
Last Christmas, the high in Ville Platte was 80 degrees. For as long as we’ve had records, approximately 130 years, the Christmas high in nearby Baton Rouge has exceeded that only four times. The United States will be a whole new country in 2021 It was the hottest December on record. Climate projections suggest that New Orleans could see an 80-degree weather event between 2050 and 2079..
Most often, we hear about the more apocalyptic aspects of climate change, such as drought, starvation and migration. Louisiana is a case in point. My home state is about to become Rising seas swallow you whole. Yet, I find it hard to think about the small deaths we will be grieving because of the inextricable link between climate and culture.
Research assistance was provided to Richard Seager, Radley Horrton, Sean Ridge, Radley Ridge, and Radley Horton by Kevin Schwarzwald.