Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Global warming is causing four foot snow drifts!

In December of 2010, I wrote this post about the complicated effects on weather that the warming of the planet generates in various places. Those effects continue and are intensifying as the underlying causes of global warming continue to go unchecked.

The effects on the deniers of global warming seem to be intensifying as well. Thus, every winter, as soon as the first snow falls, we can count on the usual suspects to start chortling about all those "liberal lies" about Earth getting hotter, and we can expect some of our elected representatives to throw snowballs around on the Senate floor, claiming that that proves that "global warming is a hoax." 

Of course, these are the deniers that live in the northern hemisphere. They never mention what's going on in the other half of the planet, the southern hemisphere, when there is snow on the ground in Washington. But then perhaps the southern hemisphere doesn't exist in their world - at least not in their consciousness.

As we continue to set records for global high temperatures every month and as 2015 seems certain to become the hottest year on Earth since we started keeping records, here's a blast from the past, something to keep in mind as our half of the planet begins to cool down and edge its way toward winter.

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Global warming is causing four foot snow drifts! 

Much of the East Coast is struggling to dig out from under four foot snow drifts. Much of Northern Europe, too, has been stopped in its tracks by giant storms and in some areas people have died as a result of the cold weather.

At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization has just released a report showing that 2010 will be among the three warmest years on record - possibly the warmest on record. Moreover, the decade ending with 2010 will be the warmest decade on record.

How does one resolve the seeming dichotomy between the fact of four foot snow drifts and the fact that the world will be setting a record for heat this year? According to Judah Cohen, writing today in The New York Timesit is all due to the topography of Asia.

The high topography of Asia influences the atmosphere in profound ways. The jet stream, a river of fast-flowing air five to seven miles above sea level, bends around Asia’s mountains in a wavelike pattern, much as water in a stream flows around a rock or boulder. The energy from these atmospheric waves, like the energy from a sound wave, propagates both horizontally and vertically.

As global temperatures have warmed and as Arctic sea ice has melted over the past two and a half decades, more moisture has become available to fall as snow over the continents. So the snow cover across Siberia in the fall has steadily increased.

The sun’s energy reflects off the bright white snow and escapes back out to space. As a result, the temperature cools. When snow cover is more abundant in Siberia, it creates an unusually large dome of cold air next to the mountains, and this amplifies the standing waves in the atmosphere, just as a bigger rock in a stream increases the size of the waves of water flowing by.

The increased wave energy in the air spreads both horizontally, around the Northern Hemisphere, and vertically, up into the stratosphere and down toward the earth’s surface. In response, the jet stream, instead of flowing predominantly west to east as usual, meanders more north and south. In winter, this change in flow sends warm air north from the subtropical oceans into Alaska and Greenland, but it also pushes cold air south from the Arctic on the east side of the Rockies. Meanwhile, across Eurasia, cold air from Siberia spills south into East Asia and even southwestward into Europe.


And so we get the Metrodome in Minneapolis collapsing under the weight of snow, people dying in Poland due to subzero temperatures, and New York shut down for days because of four foot snow drifts. Even here along the humid Gulf Coast, we are not totally immune. We had our first frosts in November, almost three weeks ahead of schedule this year.

But all of this cold weather is not a contradiction of global warming. It is, in fact, confirmation of it. If we don't begin to take steps to walk back our human influence on the climate, we can expect to experience even more severe extremes in weather - both hot and cold - in the future.

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