photo: Matthew McDermott
I have to say that I haven't yet heard some wrong-but-glib media personality exclaim that the blizzard that just whacked the East Coast proves that global warming isn't happening, but no doubt it'll be said or has been said and I missed it. Which means it's worth saying again: Just because it's snowing out doesn't mean global warming is fake. Since that meme (and basic understanding of climate versus weather, not to mention climate change science in general) has not fully been established, it bears repeating. Seemingly on cue, last week NRDC released a list of answers to climate change skeptics. One of them addresses this question succinctly. Commit it to memory:
It's really cold outside. What happened to global warming? ... Global warming does not abolish the seasons. Global warming and climate change do, however, change weather patterns and increase the amount of moisture the air can hold, leading to more severe storms. The specific reason for the recent cold weather in Eastern North America and Europe (a very small fraction of the Earth's surface) is that cold air is spilling out of the arctic, cooling these areas but making the arctic significantly warmer than normal, as Jeff Masters explains in his excellent Wunder Blog.
For the more technically minded, it's also worth pointing out some research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published back in November. Lead researcher Vladimir Petoukhov said at the time, "Recent severe winters like last year's of the one of 2005-2006 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it."
The gist of the Potsdam research: As sea ice in the eastern Arctic melts, sea surfaces without ice cover lose warmth to the cold and windy atmosphere. This in turn leads to atmospheric anomalies, one of which is increasing probabilities of cold winter extremes in northern latitudes. In Europe and northern Asia, this research showed that that possibility could be tripled.
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More on Global Climate Change:
Just Because It's Snowing Out Doesn't Mean Global Warming is Fake, Say It With Me People
Melting Arctic Sea Ice May Actually Cause Colder Northern Winters
Answer Your Climate Skeptic Relatives PDQ With NRDC's Holding Global Warming FAQ