Archive for January 9th, 2014

Yes, it’s Climate Change!

Lake Michigan frozen in Chicago

Lake Michigan frozen in Chicago

If you’re on Facebook you’ve no doubt read the posts about how cold it is.   When a reporter in Bangor threw a cup of hot coffee in the air it crystallized and blew away.   Another in Minneapolis did the same with a pot of boiling water!   It’s not just the cold.   Having grown up in South Dakota and lived a long time in Minnesota, I’m no stranger to minus 35 degrees (NOT including wind chill).   Rather it’s the duration and wide spread scope of this cold weather.

As NPR explains, this is because we are experiencing a polar vortex.    Usually a low pressure cell with extremely cold air sits atop the north pole all winter.   Minnesota will get the occasional minus 40 degree weather because at times bits of it come south.   Due to the way continents and climates interact, the coasts stay mild as the middle grows intensely cold.   Since moving to Maine I’d many times see my friends back in Minnesota experiencing minus 35 while here we didn’t go below 10 above.

That’s still the case.   While we’ve been going below zero in the single digits in Maine the temperatures have remained frigid all over the northern plains.   The cold here is more intense than usual.

vortex

The polar vortex comes from a larger piece of that low pressure cell moving south, and bringing with it more cold war than we’re used to.  And as Time explains, this could be real evidence of global warming.   The reason is that the warm gulf stream has helped keep cold air caged up north, allowing milder air to reign through most of the US.   That’s why when I moved from Minnesota to Maine I was moving to a distinctly warmer climate.   A lot of Arctic ice has been lost in past decades due to global warming, cooling down the north Atlantic.

Think of it like big ice cubes breaking off and melting in warmer water.   While with ocean currents and depths it will take awhile, eventually that can cool the ocean enough to impact the jet stream.   If that’s what’s happening, it may well be that we’re getting yet another real indicator not only of the reality of global warming (which only a few holdouts deny), but that its impact may be multifaceted in unexpected ways.

polar2

For us in the Northeastern US (and probably everywhere between Montana and Poland) global warming may mean colder winters.   So how is that global warming?   When the cold air leaves the polar regions, they warm up.  This has been a warm winter in the Arctic, and usually frigid places in Alaska have had mild temperatures.   Polar warming seems to defy expectations, but the impact of cooling oceans on the jet streams and climate patterns suggests a hard to predict but likely destabilizing climate change.

It could also mean warmer summers, altering the nature of local climates and forcing changes in just about every aspect of life.  Few scientists doubt global warming, or that human green house gas production is a major factor causing it – the evidence is overwhelming.  A few ideology-driven political types try to deny it, and hopefully karma will give them what they deserve for endangering future generations far more than would be the case if we acted to clean up our energy usage.

But the reality is that humans live in denial, and it won’t be until it’s too late to stop the disaster that people realize we were warned and did very little.   Something like the polar vortex shows that the consequences of global warming may be very unexpected and vary from place to place.   But it’s here – and expect the headlines to get more dramatic and worse in coming years.

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