Yes, global warming is part of this cold, snowy winter

The D.C. area, where I live, has enjoyed record-setting snowfall this winter. And the high temperature has been well below the average high almost every day for the past two months. In their facile and disingenuous comments regarding our record-breaking winter, global-warming deniers pretend to believe that the view out their window reflects what’s happening everywhere. I don’t think that this is what Friedman meant by a ‘flat Earth.’ The Daily Show and the Colbert Report have done a fine job of ridiculing this perspective. But let’s go farther.

Effects differ locally

First, Stewart and Colbert are right: this pattern is regional, not global. As Scientific American reports, “globally speaking, this January was the warmest in the last three decades.” Planet-wide rises in temperature, by reorienting processes such as ocean and wind currents, will result in all sorts of changes in local climates. Most of these changes will include local warming, but some may actually include local cooling. Thus, the same article reports:

U.S. government scientists predicted last year that global warming will actually increase snowstorms … The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted the same in 2007.

So I wish that news organizations – and Stewart and Colbert – would report that, according to NASA, the Arctic is actually warmer than usual this year and that our cold results in part from their warmth.

It’s intrinsic

But let’s go even fartherer: Global warming affects all weather, anywhere. Temperature is an intrinsic factor in the development of weather, and atmospheric conditions are interconnected globally. If Earth’s overall temperature changes, then the weather will be different from what would have occurred had the temperature not changed. (Thank you, high school Earth Science!)

So it is wrongheaded to ask whether global warming “caused” your snowstorm, flood, hurricane, or gentle spring breeze. It is inextricably part of the flow.

The question is what to do about it.

A follow-up from 2018: link.

One response to “Yes, global warming is part of this cold, snowy winter

  1. True, true…and I did finally hear a decent report on NPR this morning that included mention of more snow being just as likely to be an indication of climate change as hotter summers may be, and that it’s all about longer-term trends, not individual events.


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