Saturday, May 10, 2014

Study just adds more confusion about global warming

This past March, the weather station at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport recorded a record 9.44 inches of rain for that month. This followed an unusually wet February, in which 6.11 inches of precipitation was recorded, and April was also a well above normal 4.18 inches. In the first week of May, 2.68 inches of rain fell, already well above the monthly normal of 1.94 inches. This 22.41 inches in just over three months is 214 percent above normal for this period. Despite a subpar January, with over 26 inches of rainfall thus far this year, we could have a relative drought-like condition the rest of the year and still be at normal. Some people might not mind that at all, but is it a “good” thing?

From last October through December, a “meager” 6.99 inches of precipitation fell; the normal amount is 15.4 inches. Adding January’s total, precipitation was only half of normal for the period when the most snowpack is usually formed, while above normal rainfall occurred during milder months, with less snowpack forming in the mountains and eventually feeds local reservoirs.

It has been suggested by climatologists that this scenario may not be an uncommon occurrence in the future. If so, while the effects may not seem to have any noticeable impact on everyday life, significant changes in precipitation patterns cannot but have some impact on the environment, agriculture, fisheries and human consumption. What that is may not be clear now, but it doesn’t help to remain oblivious to it.

But while the Northwest has seen well above normal precipitation these past several months, this hasn’t been true in general throughout the country. Nationally, March temperatures were among the coldest on record, and precipitation was 10 percent below the historical national average. NOAA reports severe drought conditions in the rest of the West and South Plains, with nearly 40 percent of the country in that condition. Meanwhile, below average temperatures dominated weather patterns in the East, and in early April two-thirds of the Great Lakes surface area was still frozen over. Repeated and continuous storm patterns left considerable snowpack, unlike most of the West. 

As the contiguous United States has seen below average temperatures in March, the same could not be said about Alaska, which during the January to March period saw the third warmest on record—an amazing 6.3 degrees warmer than normal. Precipitation was down as well, which combined to have the side effect of making recent dog sled racing events somewhat tricky on paths without snow. Not surprisingly, then, overall the climate extremes index was the 11th highest for the year-to-date. 

This might all sound confusing to those who have been repeatedly told that global warming is upon us, while others—mainly those on the right of the political spectrum—tell us it is all leftist hogwash. A recent study released by Florida State University researchers only seems to muddy the picture further. While global warming is “happening,” it has not done so uniformly. While the Northern Hemisphere has seen rising temperatures—no doubt due in part to the heavy emission of greenhouse gases—equatorial regions which are already hot had actually seen a cooling trend. 

While the study arguse that more areas have seen warming than those which have seen cooling, it also notes that overall average temperatures have “stabilized” since the late 1990s after a period of “accelerated” increases. Some scientists now blame solar activity for previous increases in temperature, and now that such activity is in decline, cooling can be expected.

One of the interesting aspects of all of this is that despite all of the wild weather activity we have seen over the past winter, it is always to be compared to other periods, and there has always been weather phenomenon of similar scope in the past 100 years. Some areas of seen “the most” or the “highest”—and others “the least” and the “lowest.” I won’t say the global warming isn’t occurring—its effects may take more time to reach the point where people get really scared, and politicians decide that something must be done—but scientists like to play games with their various computer models that were unavailable in past times, and claim to understand now what wasn’t understood then. It seems, however, that many things are still not understood about nature.

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