Saturday, January 16, 2010

Don't Confuse Weather with Climate

The recent spate of Arctic cold that swept the nation has many questioning whether global warming is nothing more than a myth. It's almost comical for me to hear these rationalizations that the sub zero temperatures are proof positive that global warming is nothing more than a liberal strategy to generate unnecessary concern and anxiety in to the hearts of every patriotic, God fearing, hard working, and loyal American. It's equally amazing to me that these same folks can be so narrow minded as to ignore the scientific data that is available. They also apparently do not know the difference between "weather" and "climate".

Weather is short-term changes in the atmosphere: fluctuations in temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, brightness, visibility, wind, and barometric pressure. It can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to-day. Climate, on the other hand, is the average of weather over an extended period of time; it's the description of the long-term pattern of weather in a particular area. Climate is what you expect (like a hot summer), and weather is what you get.

So why was the Northeast so bitterly cold in December '09 and early January of 2010? How can they justify the theory of global warming, given the unusual sub zero temperatures? Some believe it was due to the normal changes in cyclical patterns like El Nino. I imagine that is possible, but with that, we still shouldn't ignore the fact that scientists have shown that the polar ice caps are melting.

One interesting theory that supports the argument of global warming and offers a possible explanation for the recent frigid temperatures is that as the sea ice melts, they dump cold, fresh water in to the oceans (much like adding an ice cube to a hot cup of tea). The ocean currents that carry the warmer air aloft along the east cost and on to Europe are rapidly cooling down. As a result, it's allowing for more intense cold and winter storms in areas typically tempered by what were warmer currents.

I love the winter, the cold weather and lots of snow. I'd move to Alaska tomorrow if I could . . . the problem is, that at the rate we're going, Alaska could soon have palm trees. Okay . . . so I'm being a bit facetious, but I've lived in the unbearably hot, humid "Sunshine State" for twelve years. I sincerely miss my good friends there, but one of the happiest days in my life was the day I saw the sign that said "You are now leaving the state of Florida". I have no interest in ever living in that kind of climate again.