Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quick Weather Update

For those who haven't noticed, the Mid-Atlantic has shattered records for snowfall that date back to the 19th century.

The previous record in Washington DC was the winter of 1898-1899, with 54.5 inches. As of 2 PM today, Washington DC's total is at 54.9 inches, and we're not near done yet.

Baltimore and the western DC suburbs have recorded much higher totals, at 72.3 and 63.5 inches, respectively.

I expect Washington DC could get another 10-20 inches this winter, totally blowing away all previous records.

My favourite quote:

Conditions were so bad that snowplows were advised to get off the roads.

Typical 21st Century Washington DC quote:

"This snow reminds me of when I was driving tractor-trailers in Saudi Arabia, and the sandstorm starts and you can't see the roads," said Syeed Zada, 55, a plow driver for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Very old people compared this winter to 1922 and 1910. Most people said it was by far the worst in their lifetime. This is a great big bullet for my collection of "global cooling anecdotes".

Of course weather is not climate. Aggregated weather trends are climate. So if we have an "Al Gore" winter next year then it could shift the trend line back towards normal. On the other hand, if we have another cold, snowy winter, like the last couple of years, then the climate trend line shifts farther south, towards ice age and away from global warming.


Eric said...
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Eric said...

And yet globally it's the warmest January in the thirty-two years of keeping satellite-recorded temperatures. How could this be? Well, consider this point from Salon's Gabriel Winant:

Meanwhile, as Think Progress' Brad Johnson explains, there is no scientific sense at all in this idea. In fact, it’s pretty clear that climate change increases the frequency of severe winter storms by causing greater precipitation. Average temperatures are going up -- we just had the warmest January on record -- but it’s still easily cold enough that heightened levels of precipitation mean big blizzards.

Moreover, there's a basic logic problem with the anti-warming argument here; global warming is, well, global. And it's a general trend. You can't pick out a single weather event and argue either way any more than you could pick out the Washington Generals' lone win and argue that they're the world's greatest basketball team.

Dr. Phil, who's a scientist and doesn't just play one on TV, has pointed out in response to your previous AGW pieces that a cold winter in the U.S. doesn't mean a whole lot vis-a-vis global warming in general. Microclimates are complicated things, and nobody has ever suggested that long-term global warming would preclude regional temperature drops. Indeed, some models even suggest regional ice-ages; one such model that I've mentioned before, for instance, being the suggestion that rising ocean temperatures would trigger a European ice age by shutting down the Gulf Conveyor (in all fairness, this is a controversial model and some scientists feel the importance of the Gulf Conveyor in European climate is overstated; nonetheless, the point remains that global warming isn't contradicted by local freezes, or even, indeed, by local ice ages). And, as Salon notes, that includes blizzards.

The irony, CW, is that I hope you're right. I mean, it would be awesome if climatologists are wrong about global warming, anthropogenic or otherwise. The question, really, is how much do we want to put down on that. If they're wrong and we spend tons of money on alternative fuels and emissions controls, we can at least say we've made ourselves independent of oil cartels, reduced the risks inherent to shipping carcinogens and teratogens around the globe, and cleaned the air; if they're right and we do nothing, well... frankly, given our species' history, I think we'll survive, it's just a question of whether it's a world we'd want to live in and pass along to our kids.

CW said...

Eric you are correct that the UAH Global Anomaly for January was higher than expected - which is a pretty big surprise - but it was lower than expected in December.

Just as everyone is fond of saying around here: one data point does not a trend make, in either direction.

And it takes a whole lot of data points to change climate.

So right now we're speculating and postulating on what future data will say, attempting to extrapolate from data that is extremely preliminary at this point.

I totally believe that global warming did occur betweeen 1950 and 2000 - but since then none of the data I've seen has confirmed the projected continued warming. I really do believe that the solar quiet cycle we've just started is going to have the bigger impact. I also believe that the .72C UAH anomaly for January was primarily a result of El Nino.

Also I agree with you that we should do many of the same things: take better care of the environment, break the dependence on oil, etc. Just not the massive involuntary wealth transfers to the world's most corrupt governments.

WendyB_09 said...

Hey, even Dixie is getting snow today. Not so Hot'lanta has 2-3 inches of the wet, sticky variety and it's still coming down!!

Eric said...

CW, so long as we're dependent on oil, we'll have many long years of involuntary wealth transfers to the world's most corrupt governments to look forward to. (That is true, by the way, even if all assumptions about Alaskan predicted oil reserves are stacked in the pro-drilling crowd's favor and ANWR reserves were available to the global oil market tomorrow and not in twelve years.) Assuming for the sake of conversation that involuntary transfers of wealth to corrupt governments is a constant, the analysis becomes which other variables we could tilt in our favor.

AGW remains a Pascalian wager in which even acting based on false data is better than doing nothing-at-all.