So far in 2012, chronic drought in Arizona and Colorado continues, the East reveled in an uncharacteristic warm winter while snow fell on Seattle and Portland, Ore. Out-of-season thunderstorms and tornadoes tore through the Southeast and Midwest. A tropical depression drenched the Carolinas and Virginia over the Memorial Day weekend.
Americans in 2012 are experiencing spurts of extreme weather that match the floods and storms of 2011 and 2010, apparently validating scientific projections that global climate change will generate extreme weather events. Based on what they have experienced, a majority of Americans believe the science - but not all.
A Yale/George Mason University survey in March found 82 percent of Americans suffered an extreme weather event, with 52 percent agreeing that weather in the United States is getting worse. Significantly for those accepting survey findings as having value the study, "Extreme Weather, Climate & Preparedness in the American Mind," found that 72 percent believe the warm winter is a result of global warming. Another 60 to 70 percent believe last summer's record heat, the previous winters' record snowfalls and 2011's Mississippi floods were worse because of global warming.
That compares with a Gallup Poll finding, also conducted in March, that just 58 percent of Americans believe global warming is occurring, with Gallup also finding 52 percent believe global warming already is affecting us.
But there is a dissimilitude even among those who believe extreme weather events result from global warming. Many don't act on their beliefs. While 69 percent of the respondents in the Yale/George Mason poll agreed that global warming was generating extreme weather events, just 55 percent said that they thought about preparing for emergencies, only 36 percent had a family disaster plan and 37 percent had an emergency supply kit.
In similar polls on attitudes toward global warming, Gallup and the Pew Research Center focused on another issue - acceptance of scientific findings of global warming. Gallup found 58 percent agreed that most scientists believe global warming is occurring; Pew found 63 percent agreed there is "solid evidence" that global warming is occurring. Notably, the two polls found a diversion in respondents: 53 percent of Gallup's respondents accept theories that human activities cause global warming, just 38 percent of Pew's do.
At the same time, the two polls found a division along ideological lines. Respondents who identified as Republicans were skeptical, while Democrats and independents accepted scientific theories of global climate change.
According to Gallup, 75 percent of Democrats believed there is solid evidence of global warming, 56 percent of independents believe as well; just 43 percent of Republicans buy the theory.
Pew's result are similar: 77 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents, 43 percent of Republicans believe warming is occurring. But Pew extended its survey further to those who identified with the Tea Party. Just 30 percent of those agree there is evidence of global warming and only 11 percent buy into theories of human pollution being a cause, while 64 percent believe global warming isn't happening.
The skeptics rely on claims that distortions in weather patterns result from natural variability in climate, a position that has support in science. Even the International Panel on Climate Change acknowledges: "Many extreme weather and climate events continue to be the result of natural climate variability." ("Special Report on Managing Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation," IPCC, 2012)
The panel of specialists in climate and meteorology adds: "Natural variability will be an important factor in shaping future extremes in addition to the effect of anthropogenic changes in climate." But even the IPCC is equivocal on effects of climate change, saying there are no clear standards for determining an "extreme" weather event.
Weather events span a range of probabilities. For example, rainfall on Maui can vary from 0 to a foot or more depending on location and season and not be considered extreme.
"There is no precise definition of an extreme," the special report says.
For most Americans, then, the definition is subjective: You know it when it happens to you.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at hakumoole firstname.lastname@example.org. Haku Mo'olelo, writing stories, is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.