Floods, heat waves, rising sea levels, an increase in tropical storms, climate change has had radical and irreversible effects on the environment. According to philosopher Dale Jamieson, author of “Reason in a Dark Time,” more than 60 percent of Americans believe that climate change will harm other species and future generations, while only thirty-two percent believe it will harm them personally.
Considering the devastation and impact of Hurricane Katrina and superstorm Sandy, or the fact that California is in the midst of a historic drought, one would think that more than thirty-two percent of Americans would believe that climate change could harm them personally.
Extreme weather not only affects people. It can also alter history and change the world. From the Bubonic Plaque to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, weather has had a profound impact on economic conditions and migration patterns. Meteorology has affected the outcome of wars, led to wide scale human tragedy, and prevented one Japanese city from having an atomic bomb dropped on it while sealing the fate of another.
12. Cold Weather Contributes to Challenger Disaster
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its mission, killing all seven crew members onboard. After a 32-month investigation by the Rogers Commission it was determined that the O-ring on the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) failed. It was 36 degrees at Cape Canaveral at the time of launch, 15 degrees colder than any previous space shuttle launch. The O-rings had no test data to support a launch in such cold conditions. In fact, engineers had written a recommendation advising against launching at temperatures below 53 degrees, but NASA managers, in a classic example of “go fever,” disregarded the warnings
11. Donora Smog
It’s described by The New York Times “as one of the worst air pollution disasters in American history.” In 1948, hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide emissions from the U.S. Steel’s Donora Zinc Works mixed with fog to create a lethal toxic event. A thick wall of smog hung over the Pennsylvania mill town for five days. The smog killed 20 people and sickened 7,000. Fifty more residents died from respiratory complications after the event.
What made the Sonora smog so lethal? A meteorological condition called “temperature inversion.” Warmer air aloft trapped sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, fluorine, and other poisonous gases in a layer of colder air near the surface.
10. Lightning and the Hindenburg Disaster
On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship burst into flames, resulting in 36 fatalities. News coverage of the disaster played around the word, and several unproven hypotheses as to what caused the accident were put forward.
Did leaked hydrogen gas cause the Hindenburg to burst into flames? Did anti-Nazi sympathizers sabotage the airship. Conspiracy theorists even suggested Hitler had ordered the Hindenburg to be destroyed.
It’s widely believed some form of electricity brought down the Hindenburg. In December 2012, in an episode of the Discovery Channel series Curiosity entitled “What Brought Down the Hindenburg?” a team of experts led by British aeronautical engineer Jem Stansfield concluded that electrostatic spark caused the disaster.
9. The 1967 Heat Wave and Urban Riots
The urban uprisings began in Cleveland and Newark and culminated with a violent, five-day siege in Detroit. There were 43 deaths, 7,300 arrests, and $60 million in property damage in the Motor City. Buildings burned and stores were looted. The 1967 riots are considered part of the activist political culture of the 1960s. However, the extreme heat is believed to have contributed to the violence in 1967. On the day the riots began in Detroit – Saturday July 22, 1967 –the city was in the middle of an oppressive heat wave, and few people had air conditioners.
8. Divine Wind Conquers Kublai Khan
In the 13th century, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, launched a fleet to seize control of Japan. The Mongol ships were met with two massive typhoons. The typhoons, which came to be known as “divine wind,” or “kamikaze,” spared Japan from occupation in 1274 and again 1281. Shinto priests believed the storms were the result of prayer.
Over the years scientists and historians questioned the existence of kamikaze typhoons. They believed the storms were legends. However, researchers recently found evidence of increased typhoon activity around the time of the Mongol attacks. Kamikaze typhoons aren’t the result of Shinto prayer, but of the El Ninos systems in the Pacific in the 13th century.
7. The Great Mississippi Flood and Northern Migration
It began with heavy rains in the central basin of the Mississippi in 1926. In 1927, the Mississippi River breached its levee system in 145 places and flooded over 27,000 square miles. The flood killed 246 people in seven states and caused over $400 million in damages.
Considered the most destructive river flood in the history of the U.S., the Great Mississippi Flood displaced many African-Americans from their homes along the lower Mississippi River. Instead of staying in the area and rebuilding, many people migrated North to industrial cities. The flood contributed to the Great Migration –a period when 6 million African Americans left the rural south for urban centers.
6. Fog and the Battle of Long Island
If a dense fog hadn’t blanketed the East River in 1776, American history may have turned out differently. On August 27, 1776, George Washington and the Continental Army suffered a defeat by British troops. Washington and his men were trapped at the western end of Long Island.
However, a fog rolled in on August 29. George Washington saved what was left of his army by crossing the East River to Manhattan under cover of a dense fog. The Colonial Army was defeated at the Battle of Long Island, but fog, darkness, and inclement weather enabled them to retreat unseen and eventually win the Revolutionary War.
5. Hurricane Defeats Spanish Armada
King Phillip’s invasion of England didn’t go as planed. In 1588, the Spanish Armada was damaged after two weeks of heavy fighting. Medina Sedona aborted the plan and plotted a return course to Spain. As the Armada circled the British Isles, it encountered a large hurricane; 24 ships ran aground on the shores of Ireland.
The storm is often called the Protestant Wind. The English believed it was a sign that God supported the reformation. Historians cite the incident as the turning point in naval power. Spain’s supremacy was over. England was now the dominant power in the western world.
4. Severe Storms and the French Revolution
Historians believe a cycle of severe storms and unusual weather partly triggered the French Revolution. Between 1787 and 1788, most of France’s crops were destroyed by drought, hailstorms, and flooding. Food poverty was a contributing factor in the French Revolution. But what caused the freakish weather?
According to the Guardian, scientists think that when the Laki volcano erupted in Iceland over 200 years ago, it had a severe impact on weather conditions and agriculture in the northern hemisphere. The volcano not only contributed to the weather patterns that triggered the French Revolution, but it also disrupted the Asian monsoon cycle, causing famine in Egypt.
3. Cloud Cover and Nuclear Weapons
“Cloud cover less than three-tenths. Advice: bomb primary.”
That’s what the pilot on a weather reconnaissance plane radioed on August 6, 1945 at 7:09 in the morning. At 8:15 a.m., a U.S. B-29 dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.
On August 8, in a strange meteorological twist of fate, overcast skies prevented the U.S. from dropping a second nuclear bomb on the primary target, Kokura. An arms factory was the intended target. Bock’s Car passed over Kokura three times with its bomb bays open before the order was aborted because of poor visibility. Instead, the second nuclear bomb was released over the backup target -Nagasaki.
2. Maya Collapse Tied to Drought
The Mayan empire flourished in Mexico and northern Central America for six centuries but before it began to disintegrate in A.D. 900. Scientists believe two factors contributed to the collapse of Mayan civilization –deforestation and drought.
Researchers think modest dry spells were exacerbated when Mayans cut down the jungle canopy to make way for cities and crops. While social and economic dynamics are also believed to have contributed to the collapse of Mayan culture, deforestation -which accounted for up to 60 percent of the drought, according to the journal Geophysical Research Letters -played the key role.
1. Harsh Russian Winter Leads to German Defeat
In September 1941, Hitler launched Operation Typhoon, sweeping into the Soviet Union with 75 German divisions and over two million men. Napoleon launched a similar attack on Moscow in 1812, his army pillaging the city only to fall victim to the Russian winter on the march home. Minus 40-degree temperatures, frostbite, and starvation killed 450,000 of Napolean’s men.
If Hitler had been a better student of history, maybe he wouldn’t have launched an attack on Russia with winter approaching. The German army was so confident it would win against Stalin’s troops that it brought dress uniforms for a victory march in Red Square instead of a surplus of winter clothing. The harsh Russian winter led to German defeats outside of Moscow and Stalingrad and was the turning point in the war.
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