Students sitting outside in spring

Students at the HSS amphitheater enjoy the sudden change to warmer weather on March 4, 2022.

In recent years, the seasons have started to blend together in several areas because of rapidly changing weather conditions. As many may know from personal experience, East Tennessee has always had rapidly changing weather conditions — especially during spring and fall — but these changes have gradually become more intense as the years progress.

In the beginning of March, it was almost too cold to walk outside without a heavy coat, but only a few days later, hundreds of students were enjoying the warm spring sun on HSS Plaza. Now, snow is on the forecast for this weekend.

This is not just a mere coincidence, but a result of increasing rates of climate change, which researchers believe could eventually have an extremely detrimental effect on our environment, and it goes beyond just these weather shifts.

Kelsey Ellis, associate professor of geography who specializes in climatology and meteorology, explained these drastic changes in weather patterns and what could potentially be their cause.

“These are referred to as ‘weather whiplash events’ when the weather drastically changes over a short window. They are happening more frequently in some areas recently, and researchers believe it may be due to changes in cloud cover or wind speed,” Ellis said.

Sudden weather changes can be inconvenient in terms of preparation and dressing appropriately, but there are much larger issues at hand. These weather whiplash events, while seemingly harmless, have the potential to cause environmental disasters on a much broader scale.

Ellis explained how climate change can reach extremes and ultimately damage our environment.

“More ‘chaotic weather’ can be expected at a lot of locations. One theory is that the jet stream may change in a way that allows for more extremes, including heat waves and cold air outbreaks. This also affects our precipitation, which is becoming flashier, meaning you can expect more floods and more droughts,” Ellis said.

“If weather whiplash and other changes continue to occur, we can expect damage to our ecosystems that are sensitive to precise timing for food chains and other symbiotic relationships.”

Without changing our day to day lives and reducing our waste, pollution and fossil fuel contributions, climate change will likely continue to occur at an increasingly accelerated rate, which will ultimately impact our local environment and ecosystems.

Senior Sarah Lawson described her frustration with Tennessee weather trends and why she believes we should work together to prevent climate change.

“It is unbelievable to me that I was sitting outside with my friends sunbathing just last week, but now I have to wear my winter jacket because it is so cold outside. This is not natural, and we by no means should believe it to be natural. We have to cut down on our mass production and waste as a nation. This is very serious and I don’t understand why people are not taking action as soon as possible,” Lawson said.

Many students have had similar experiences to Lawson’s, and they are beginning to realize that this is an increasingly important issue within the state. Like Lawson, concerned students see these shifts happening at a much quicker rate due to human interactions with our environment, and they believe that if we continue to not take action, the circumstances could grow worse for us on a more individual level.

Ellis explained the impact that these changes in weather can have on students in terms of their overall health.

“Anomalously cold or warm weather can cause issues with mental or physical health, so these changes from one to the other can affect vulnerable individuals,” Ellis said.

With issues such as winter depression due to lack of vitamin D, drastic changes in weather can severely affect levels of anxiety within students because of a lack of consistency, even if students have welcomed the warmer weather.

For those who are interested in becoming involved in local climate change activism, organizations such as the Greater Knoxville Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED Knox) are great starting points.

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