We’re already seeing the ways the climate crisis is destabilizing seasons and ecosystems—and this is just the beginning. Aside from nightmare fires and floods that are becoming a bit too familiar, some “wilder” climate impacts are already beginning to hit. Climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe uses the term “global weirdings” for these happenings that, in addition to being dangerous and disruptive, are just plain weird. It’s the stuff of horror, adventure, and very high stakes.
When a heat dome enveloped the Pacific Northwest in June 2021, a giant, warm blob of water formed in the Pacific Ocean. Shifts in the wind, weather, and current created the conditions for warm water to stagnate, instead of mixing in the ocean’s layers as it normally would. This caused a massive, poisonous algae bloom that entered rivers and streams. Children were told not to go in the water. But the crabs ate it—and it made the crabs poisonous. Crab fishermen up and down the West Coast were shut down for the entire season. Whole towns went bankrupt. It spurred the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations to sue the fossil fuel companies responsible for the climate crisis, saying that the fossil fuel industry knew their products caused harm, but didn’t warn the public.
The Egyptian city of Aswan usually receives only one to three millimeters of rain per year. So when a thunderstorm rolled through in November 2021, it caused a massive amount of disruption. The venomous scorpions that inhabit the surrounding desert were driven out of their dens and burrows in tremendous numbers, taking refuge in human dwellings and—naturally—stinging residents who stumbled across their new houseguests. Although Aswan locals are used to dealing with scorpions, this verged on a Biblical plague: more than 500 people were hospitalized by stings from scorpions, whose venom is toxic enough to kill small children and cause intense pain in adults.
Utah’s Great Salt Lake covers an area the size of Delaware, but summer droughts in 2021 brought water levels lower than they’ve been in 170 years. Aside from disrupting pelican habitats and ecosystems, the drought is also creating poisonous dust. Arsenic forms naturally in the salty lake beds, and when the soil is exposed because of drought, it dries up and becomes arsenic dust that gets blown across the entire Utah basin. The drier the Great Salt Lake becomes, the more this poison-laced dust infiltrates the air breathed by millions of people and animals.
There are these blooms of microscopic algae that thrive on the surface of melting snow, turning it into “watermelon snow” or “blood snow.” The red color absorbs more incoming solar radiation than white snow, which causes more melt, which, in turn, causes further algae growth, and so on. Snowfields are melting earlier every year. These blooms are becoming more frequent, larger, and more intense. It is easy to foresee a time when the snowfields will not persist long enough into the summer to support blooms of algae. The irony is too much. But the algae cannot do anything about the fact that they are accelerating their own demise.
A ghost forest is the watery remains of once verdant woodland. As sea levels rise, more and more saltwater encroaches on the land. Along the world’s coasts and estuaries, invading seawater is advancing and overtaking the fresh water that trees rely on for sustenance. The salty water slowly poisons living trees, leaving a haunted forest of dead and dying timber. Still standing in or near brackish water, the decaying trees of a ghost forest resemble giant graying pillars that protrude into the air. No shade indeed.
In September 2020, three months’ worth of rain fell in a single day in Dakar, Senegal. The standing water in the streets was quickly covered in green algae, giving Dakar the look of an alien planet. And in April 2021, torrential rainfall caused icy flash floods in Saudi Arabia, aka one of the most arid places on the planet. Concentrated rainfall of this sort, especially in areas that historically have little or sporadic precipitation, is a problem on a whole bunch of levels, from material destruction and deaths by drowning, to mass disruption of the local ecosystem.
Rising temperatures have destabilized the poles, causing huge cracks in ice shelves and glaciers. Polar bears have been moving much farther south than normal in search of food, and, increasingly, entering towns. A group of polar bears even took over an abandoned Arctic weather station. Conversely, beavers have been able to migrate farther north than ever before, building dams that flood landscapes. The more these natural migration patterns get disrupted, the more other species in these interconnected ecosystems are forced to change their behaviors as well, leading to a snowball effect that threatens nearby communities and their food sources.