Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Frigid weather and a warming planet

Current temps may be a counterintuitive example of climate change.

Frigid weather and a warming planet

Pedestrians in Philadelphia. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Pedestrians in Philadelphia. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)

I'm sure you've all heard it umpteen times today and in the previous cold snap.

So let's all say in unison: "Whatever happened to global warming?"

Climate change deniers are having a lot of fun with this one, no to mention the research ship that recently became stuck in Antarctic ice. But aren't they some of the ones who caution during a summer heat spell that weather is weather, and it's different from climate?

Climate is big. It's overall. It's long-term.  Weather is now. Weather is what's happening short-term. Weather is variable.

Perhaps the best analogy I've heard is this: Think of a man walking a dog up a hill.  The dog races ahead one minute and lags far behind the next. Other times, it's close to the man.  The dog is weather. The man is climate change.

For more discussion on the current frigid weather and climate change...

Let's start with humor: New Yorker blogger Andy Borowitz posted a funny-ish piece under the headline, ""Polar Vortex Causes Hundreds of Injuries as People Making Snide Remarks About Climate Change Are Punched in Face." Okay, a tad antagonistic, too.

More to the science: Climate Central's Andrew Freeman points out that the current cold may be "a counterintuitive example of global warming in action."  Researchers tell him that the weather pattern driving the extreme cold "fits with other recently observed instances of unusual fall and wintertime jet stream configurations."

Want more detail? Here's what Time/Science has to say: "Right now much of the U.S. is in the grip of a polar vortex, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a whirlwind of extremely cold, extremely dense air that forms near the poles. Usually the fast winds in the vortex—which can top 100 mph (161 k/h)—keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it. In this case, nearly the entire polar vortex has tumbled southward, leading to record-breaking cold."

And THAT may have been triggered by a sudden stratospheric warming event related to melting Arctic ice.

The Union of Concerned Scientists took on the snow in a post, "It’s Cold and My Car is Buried in Snow. Is Global Warming Really Happening?"

It includes lots of temperature data. Looking ahead, "Scientists are looking into how the jet stream pattern shifts in recent years have influenced where winter sets in hardest in the Northern Hemisphere, though it’s not clear how much impact this trend will have in the future, especially as the Arctic ice continues to lose mass."

Stay tuned. And keep the snow shovels and ice melt handy.

Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

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Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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