building a sustainable and resilient community

Why cold weather does not equal global “cooling”

Posted on | January 8, 2010 | No Comments

Image courtesy of Dot Earth (NY Times)

This graph is from the NY Times Dot Earth blog written by Andrew C. Revkin.  Mr. Revkin mentioned a few days ago that while, yes, it is pretty darn cold out there, this current activity is not a result of the Earth’s warming, nor is it an indication that the Earth is cooling.  It’s more like an extreme result of the natural cycle of Arctic oscillation, much like the El Nino and La Nina cycles of the Pacific Ocean.  The tiny blue dot in the lower right-hand corner of the graph, right above the “2010”, is showing a phenomenal plunge of atmospheric pressure in the Arctic in December, almost taking it off the chart, and bringing it to a level lower than anything since at least 1950.  It’s easy to forget that our atmosphere operates in cycles, or waves, and that great swaths of pressure and weather swirl around the globe as they interact with the turning of the Earth on its axis, the heat sink of the oceans and the heat islands on land.  But, Mr. Revkin points out:

Overall, federal forecasters have said that the warming influence of a persistent El Niño warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to be a bigger driver of conditions through the full course of this winter. When it’s freezing where you sit, it’s hard to keep in mind that it may be  extraordinarily warm elsewhere, as Joe Romm pointed out today.

In other words, winter is winter, it’s just REALLY WINTER-Y.  Nevertheless, I do wonder what kind of weather pattern alterations we’ll start to see as the atmosphere continues to absorb greenhouse gas emissions and the global temperature increases.  Guess we’ll find out soon enough.



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