Thursday, March 4, 2010

Weather Is Not Climate

By Colin Bennett
March 4, 2010

Weather is what we experience day-to-day or week-to-week; a few weeks ago it was bitterly cold in the D.C. area but there was no snow. More recently, there has been a lot of snow but the temperature has been warmer. Both the bitter cold and the blizzards are examples of weather. Climate on the other hand, is what we experience over long periods of time. In the D.C. area the climate can be generally described as hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Spring and fall are obviously marked by the transition between the intensity of winter and summer.  Sometimes it gets remarkably hot in the summer just as sometimes it gets exceptionally cold in the winter. A particularly warm January period not disprove that it’s winter just as a lot of snow does not disprove that our planet is warming. 

With the recent snow storms in the area, some have mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that our planet must be getting colder. Apparently, their logic is something along the lines of "it's snowing; there must be no such thing as global warming!" Unreasonable claims like these are made by people like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other Fox News personalities and parroted by people that don’t want to learn the facts about our warming planet and its changing climate. The truth is, the presence of snow, even record amounts of snow, does not disprove the fact that Earth is getting warmer and our climate is in crisis. In fact, major storms could add to the body of evidence that support the fact that our climate is changing (for the worse) and humans are responsible for it. Paradoxically, the same can be said of the lack of snow at the winter Olympics in Vancouver. 

There are a number of media sources that are at best, grossly misinformed and at worst, purposely trying to deceive the American public. Take this recent statement from the Washington Times, “Record snowfall illustrates the obvious: The global warming fraud is without equal in modern science.” The idiocy of that statement barely warrants comment; it’s like saying that because it’s raining in the desert, it’s no longer a desert. It could snow everyday for a month and that would prove nothing other than we are experiencing an extreme weather event. Unfortunately, some of the people making these asinine statements (that have no basis in scientific fact) include some our highest elected officials. Senator Jim DeMint (R- South Carolina) recently tweeted "It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries "uncle". Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, one of the most vocal global warming skeptics in Washington, went so far as to publicize an igloo on Capitol Hill, built by his grandchildren, with a sign on it that said "Al Gore's New Home". 

Contrary to some 'news' reports, evidence suggests that our recent storms could actually be a result of climate change. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Warmer air leads to increased evaporation, increased evaporation leads to more moisture in the atmosphere, and increased moisture in the atmosphere can lead to stronger storms. Already, this winter has delivered the most snow in D.C. and Baltimore since records began. In fact, as reported by Time, two of the major storms that buried D.C. and Baltimore this winter, “in December and during the first weekend of February, are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded.” Philadelphia has seen three of its snowiest storms ever this winter.  

However, as stated before, weather is not climate- a single snow storm, or even a series of snow storms is not indicative of overall climate trends, just as the lack of snow where it's typically common does not prove that our planet is warming. The scientific community is still in consensus about real, anthropogenic climate change, despite record snow in D.C. Decades of research conducted by thousands of scientists all over the globe provide the evidence. 

Fortunately, most media sources actually understand what’s going on. Time Magazine has a great article covering the relationship between the recent snow and climate change, 'Another Blizzard: What Happened to Global Warming?' Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has an excellent segment from one of her recent shows 'Global warming isn't the opposite of snow.' The Washington Post has also been doing responsible reporting on the issue, 'Harsh winter a sign of disruptive climate change, report says.'

While future extreme weather events are likely to cause a few people to make ridiculous claims, it is incumbent upon responsible Americans to avoid irresponsible media outlets that make fallacious statements and seek out sources that will provide the facts about our warming planet and changing climate. 

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