Sample text for The coming global superstorm / Art Bell and Whitley Strieber.

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Chapter 1: Present Danger

Nineteen ninety-nine was the most violent year in the modern history of weather. So was 1998. So was 1997. And 1996. Anybody who glances at a weather report from time to time can see that something extraordinary is happening. But exactly what that is remains a matter of controversy.

For twenty years, we have been bombarded with warnings that global warming is a real and present danger. Equally, there have been claims that it's all nonsense.

On March 15, 1999, scientists at the University of Arizona and the University of Massachusetts reported on their construction of a thousand-year record of earth's average temperature. The results were shocking. What has happened is that a nine-hundred-year-long cooling trend has been suddenly and decisively reversed in the past fifty years. Due to the rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases, ferocious warming is under way. The scientists predicted that the earth will shortly be warmer than it has been in millions of years.

A climatological nightmare is upon us. It is almost certainly the most dangerous thing that has ever happened in our history. However, there is a surprising amount that we can do about it. Some of it involves personal action. Some of it involves the whole society. None of it is particularly difficult or expensive, and none of it will place a cost burden on government, business, or the individual.

How effective will it be? That remains to be seen. So far, the fact that we cannot answer the question of just how dangerous global warming actually is, has meant that nobody is doing anything very decisive. But the situation is getting more and more serious. It has become clear that the deterioration of the atmosphere -- indeed, of the whole biosphere -- is happening a lot faster than even the most concerned climatologists imagined just a short time ago.

What does this mean? What might happen? We must find a way to understand. We must, because we have to empower ourselves to prevent it. Could it be that the worst climate disaster of all -- an event barely whispered about -- is actually happening right now? Could we be at the edge of runaway climate change -- an event so devastating that it could abruptly leave the world unable to feed itself, perhaps even visit it with unimaginable destruction?

To find out, we must take a journey not only through the shocking record of current climate change, but also into the amazing history of the world's weather.

At this point, almost any violent change in climate will batter our civilization because it is so enormous and makes such a massive demand on the environment. Even the unthinkable could happen: our civilization could fall.

Earth's climate works like a rubber band being stretched and suddenly released. For years, eons even, the stresses slowly build as the chemistry of the air changes. And then, in a matter of a few years or even a few months, there is a shift so vast that we can scarcely begin to imagine it.

Earth, it seems, has a powerful regulatory mechanism built into its climate. Heat increases to a certain point, and then the whole system breaks down. Cold air comes roaring down from the north, flooding the previously overheated Northern Hemisphere.

Suddenly, a new era of cold weather begins. We know, generally, how this happens. But not even science has as yet faced the fact that this change must be accompanied by an absolutely massive release of energy, as earth's climate strives to reorganize itself. In other words, this great shift of climate is almost certainly accompanied by a great storm or series of storms, a weather upheaval outside of contemporary human experience. We believe that it has happened before, and that traces of what we are calling the superstorm exist in the fossil record. We believe that it comes on suddenly and that it is so destructive that it has the potential to end our civilization.

These are sensational claims, but we can prove that nature pulls the trigger suddenly and, therefore, that the rebalancing of the climate that follows must also be very sudden and involve titanic energies. This suggests that our present situation may be extremely perilous.

Over the past three million years the earth has been locked in an unusually harsh climate system. During this period, our climate has flipped from warm to cold conditions and back again many times. Again and again, earth has warmed up, getting hotter and hotter until -- very suddenly -- the glaciers have come back and entombed a quarter of the planet in ice for upwards of a hundred thousand years. Sometimes, the cooling event has not resulted in a long-term buildup of ice. Sometimes, as happened around 8,000 B.C., sudden cooling has not led to the return of the ice, but has only interrupted the warming process for a short time.

All of the factors that have caused sudden climate change in the past are lining up right now. This change, which we will show is part of a vast natural cycle, has been sped up this time by human activity. When the change comes, it is likely to be much more violent than ever before, and we will offer evidence from recent and unexpected climatological data that indicates why this would be so.

We will look at the last great upheaval through the eyes of the people who were living then. Examining the fossil record, we will identify the season in which it took place. And we will see why that particular event did not result in a new ice age and learn exactly how to tell if the changes the next one brings will cause one or not.

What will this climate change be like for you and your family? This depends on where you live. The farther north your home, the more likely you will have to move quickly south.

When the warm ocean currents that now flow north cease to do so, our whole climate will change. It is our contention that the energy necessary for the superstorm will be created at that time.

Say you live in Dallas or Madrid or Rome. Your first indication that the superstorm is building might be weather reports to the effect that a series of cold fronts are moving down from the Arctic, one after another. This could happen at any time of the year. You would hear that more northern places -- Toronto, Stockholm, Beijing -- were receiving extremely heavy weather -- extraordinary rain in the summer, unprecedented blizzards in the winter. This would continue for a week or more, always building in intensity. Across the northern plains of the world -- the American High Plains, the central Asian steppe -- wind gusts of upwards of one hundred miles an hour would start to be recorded. We believe that it would get worse, and we will make our case over the course of this book.

Places like Edmonton and Semipalatinsk, then Minneapolis and Moscow, would cease to communicate with the outside world. Alaska and northern Siberia would have gone silent before.

From Europe to Asia to America, whole populations would be desperately attempting to move south. Because the same changes that affected currents in the North Atlantic would alter the movement of currents in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand would also be affected. There, summer would have turned to winter, or normal winter would have become extremely cold. Heavy seas would devastate the southern coasts of the continent. Typhoons, blowing up suddenly, would smash into the Philippines, Japan, and the Pacific islands.

The farther north you were, the more extreme conditions would be. Day after day, the storms would continue, becoming more complex and organized, larger, taking on forms never observed before.

All over the Northern Hemisphere, massive population movements would be taking place. There would be mass disorganization, and many, many people would be overrun by the superstorm.

After the superstorm was over, it would gradually become clear that a catastrophe of breathtaking proportions had occurred. The only reports from Europe would be coming from Portugal, southern Italy, and southern Spain. The entire American Midwest would be under a sheet of ice, one that would extend across Siberia and northern Europe as well. This ice would reflect vast amounts of sunlight and heat back into space.

If the storm -- as the last one appears to have done -- hit in summer, the ice would probably melt. It is possible that this happened the last time and, as we shall see, was recorded in myth all over the world.

If the storm took place in the fall or winter, then the ice could conceivably compress so much in the next few months and reflect back so much heat and light that the next summer simply would not be warm enough to melt it. The winter that followed would be the coldest in history.

The ultimate and ironic effect of global warming would have become clear to the survivors: a new ice age would have begun.

Copyright © 2000 by by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Climatic changes.
Severe storms.
Glacial epoch.