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Thursday, January 8, 2015
Weather ...

In December, 2012, there was an article in Scientific American (called “Winters of Our Discontent” by Charles Greene) saying that global warming was causing the Arctic ice cap to melt, and that such melting would mess up the usual Arctic air oscillation patterns. As a result, the eastern half of the USA would allegedly experience very cold winters starting in 2012-13. So, SciAm was warning us to expect a cold winter in return for the sins of our carbon-based civilization. But it didn’t happen that year; the winter of 2012-13 was mostly normal here in the east, temperature-wise. However, we did get socked the next year (last winter); the polar vortex kept on dipping downward from Canada and everyone east of the Mississippi did a fair amount of shivering, especially in February and early March. (And yes, I acknowledge that the shivering is relative; we coastal people who are used to 25 degree winters were really suffering at 10; but you inland people had to get down below zero before you started noticing it).

So, does this prove that global warming is here, clear for everyone to see in the eastern USA to see? (Not to mention the far West, with its extended heat and drought). The experts are arguing both ways on that idea. Recall that since 2000, we’ve had a very active hurricane pattern in the Atlantic; according to Weather Underground, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were on the top 10 list of hurricane seasons since 1851. These years gave us famous storms like Katrina, Wilma and Sandy. Various articles appeared attributing this trend to global warming. However, some studies go the other way on this. Since 2012, the Atlantic basin seems to have quieted down; 2014 was one of the least active years for hurricanes on record. IMHO, it’s still too soon to conclude that bigger and more frequent hurricanes are going to become a way of life because of CO2.

But what about those cold waves here in the east? We are in one right now, the first Arctic blast for this winter. Will this be another icebox winter like last year?

Interestingly enough, SciAm just doubled-down on the Arctic melting / cold eastern weather connection by publishing an article by Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters (“The Jet Stream is Getting Weird” in the December 2014 issue). Masters is quite convinced that the reduced state of Arctic ice cover is directly causing the northern jet stream to loop downward more frequently, bathing the eastern US in frigid air. And that the whole phenomenon stems directly from increased atmospheric CO2 caused by human civilization.

Well, two years ago when SciAm published a December article on this, we had a fairly normal winter. So, I’m hoping that this trend will be repeated. I’m not trying to deny that global warming is real and do not contend that increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere aren’t having an effect. However, I do believe that it’s premature to say that we’re going to be stuck with polar weather here in the east from now on (or likewise, with bigger, more frequent hurricanes). Global warming is not simply affecting the Arctic and the northern jet stream. It’s having effects throughout the world (although admittedly, changes in the Arctic are more dramatic and apparent than for most of the planet). Other countervailing factors could kick-in. For example, there is ongoing discussion about why the El Nino effect is also “getting weird”. There are possible ocean heating effects going on in the Pacific, and I have to believe that some of that energy is eventually going to find its way into the mix, potentially acting as a moderating factor against the polar vortex effects. (And possibly giving the Pacific more typhoons and cyclonic storms, as happened this past summer).

But we shall see. All I’m saying right now is that weather is very complex, and just because we had a cold winter (and a nasty “superstorm” a few years ago), I’m not yet ready to vote for a crash program to reduce carbon output. I agree that something has to be done to respond to global warming, but I don’t think it’s time yet to hit the panic button. (Carbon use will probably shrink of its own accord in coming decades because of technology and market forces, as alternate energy sources become cheaper and more effective; admittedly, a minor carbon-use tax earmarked to accelerate non-carbon technologies could speed up this process.) For the time being, I’m hoping that the “SciAm inverse effect” will kick in once again (and if it does, that SciAm publishes more alarmist articles on global warming in the future). Check back with me on this in March.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Once again, here is this topic; and how appropriate: It’s about 4, the high for today and “they” are saying minus 9 tonight. I am very conflicted about this topic.

    Now (or maybe “again”?) it’s Scientific American putting all the blame for the “polar vortex” on humans and their tendency to want to use carbon-based materials that put CO2 into the air and thus cause this whole problem. Well, maybe so. But then again, I find myself wondering if it’s not our (more specifically, Americans’) modern tendency to blame ourselves and make humans generally feel guilty about all the things they do (knowingly or unknowingly) that they could have done better but did not for convenience sake or simple laziness on their part. Maybe all this is true. The “if only” tho’t when things go wrong – or different from as planned. If only we had done this or that differently, none of this would have happened. (This “if only” blaming can be used in almost any human situation that didn’t go the way humans would have wanted it to go.) And maybe they are right: If only, we had done things differently, if only technology had not come so quickly, if only people would wake up to how much better they could make the Earth if they did things differently. . . and on and on. (I hate to say it but I’ve notice light bulbs that used to cost at the most a dollar or two now cost $10 because they will last 10 years and save on CO2 emissions [somehow or other]. Why is it I cannot help but wonder how much money someone some place is making on these new bulbs? But I digress.)

    Long ago in my life I got rid of the “if only” aspect of life. I decided that I myself, and most people in general, do what they think is best at the time, given the circumstances they have and understand at the time.

    Maybe I am wrong on this, but when I hear about climate change, I think (as I’ve said many times before and am saying again here) about the times that the “polar vortex” (which used to simply be called “winter”) swallowed up mostly the same various areas of the Earth.

    I recently noticed an article in National Geographic regarding the First Americans and how they got here. (I imagine compared to Scientific American, this magazine might be considered the scientifically and mathematically illiterate person’s way of understanding some of the current day issues that require science and math to truly understand [pictures to look at rather than reading to understand] but it’s the best I can do – and here I digress twice! Good grief!) Well, I imagine that 32,000 years ago, or even as early as 16,000 years ago, these peoples were not called “Americans”, but “First Americans” will have to do in this case. If I look at the maps (sounds better than “pictures”) correctly, it seems the people who eventually settled in the North American continent traveled over a bridge of ice that connected the eastern most tip of Asia and what is now Alaska. (I think of Sarah Palin saying, “I can see Russia from my house.” Another digression. I’m getting worse.) Yet, given some tho’t Palin’s not that wrong. Seems the area was covered with an ice sheet that allowed people to travel over it as if on solid land, and voila! – people in America!

    Furthermore, it seems this “ice bridge” happened on and off in the intervening times from 32,000 years ago to present day. I find myself wondering: Did those people put too much CO2 into the air also, thus causing the ice sheet to form and allowing them to travel easily across the sea?

    If one studies the maps, one can see that there it is – the “polar vortex” not only producing an ice sheet that allows for “pedestrian traffic” from Russia to Alaska, but covering the Midwest with an ice sheet that over time seems to wax and wane. Again, I find myself asking: Did people in those days change their CO2 habits?

    Now while I’m 100% sure that if humans used less CO2, the “polar vortex” might not be as difficult as it seems at times. (We here in the Midwest might be exceeding grateful for that, as this weather is a hardship, to say the least; I’m religiously avoiding the stories of the years the cold was much worse and I had to be out in it every. single. day.). Thus, humans might be able to forestall for a while the change in climate, but forever?

    I keep finding myself wondering if the Earth herself has her own pattern of climate and *will* follow it, regardless of what humans might prefer in the way of climate.

    Another conundrum: I recently read (no reference again from me as I have forgotten where I read this) that while the Arctic is melting the Antarctic is consistently becoming more and more covered with snow, ice, cold, resulting glaciers, etc. Now what kind of “pattern” does the Earth have planned to change itself? Maybe similar pattern changes occurred before, but humans just might not have been able to be aware of them – the technology for knowing about such changes was not available then. “Winter” simply seemed like “winter”, sometimes colder, sometimes warmer.

    Thus, while climate change is a big problem for a lot of people who are dedicated to the Earth and to keeping her pristine, I cannot help but wonder if, regardless of human beings’ efforts or non-efforts to keep her pristine, in the end such efforts will be fruitless; simply because Earth herself has her own plans and will do what she wants the way she wants. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — January 9, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

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