Snow storms and global Warming
This week most of the North east region of the United States was battered by a blizzard that paralyzed much of the nation’s capital. Leave it to the skeptics to jump on this opportunity to claim that recent heavy snow storms and cold weather are proof that global warming isn’t real.
And while this makes for a nifty headline, dig a little deeper and you’ll find the truth.
I’m not a scientist so I turn to the experts for the facts, not the rhetoric, and meteorologists and climate scientists will tell you there is a significant difference between weather and climate. Weather is our day to day experience while climate is more static describing a region’s typical weather conditions as established over periods of time. Climate allows us to know that we can expect Paris to have warm summers and cold winters and that Los Angeles won’t see snow next Christmas.
This is why we (the environmental community) have - in the past few years - shifted our terminology from talking about global warming to more accurately talking about climate change.
When we talk about climate change, we are not talking about one year’s warmer than usual summer but the pattern changes occurring over decades such as the long-term rise in global average temperatures.
With this warmer planet also comes something most of the general public would not expect: more precipitation, which means more rain and snow in areas that typically experience these. In fact, according to NASA, 2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record (hello more snow); and in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest since modern records began in 1880.
Marked increases in precipitation have been observed in eastern North America, southern South America, and northern Europe.
These changes are in step with the news of the day: “Heavy snow pummels the East Coast,” “at least 43 people dead in Mexico as a result of the intense rains and flooding affecting large portions of the country since the middle of last week.” These changes are associated with the fact that warmer air holds more water vapor evaporating from the world’s oceans and land surface; an increase observed from satellites and according to scientists, primarily due to human influences.
So while visibility in Washington, DC was less than a block, we must make sure that our world view goes well beyond this winter’s storms to the heart of the matter: climate change is a reality and it is happening now.
Global temperatures are projected to continue to rise over this century; the result of a build up of heat-trapping CO2 emissions in our atmosphere. We can take steps today to cut global warming pollution by controlling greenhouse gases and investing in a clean energy economy, putting US workers back to work and on a path to energy independence or we can bury our heads in the snow and wait for the next storm to hit.
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