Advertisement

Record snow, record heat

For those still shoveling out from the aftermath of 29 inches of snow, a Baltimore record that has doubtless done wonders for sales of acetaminophen and other muscle ache treatments, here's something that won't give you any comfort: Global warming is not only unhelpful in preventing such blizzards, it's likely going to make them worse and more common — and may well have played a factor in this one as well.

The paradox is almost too much to bear. Data released last week by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate that 2015 was the hottest year on record as measured by the global mean surface temperature, the most commonly used yardstick to indicate overall global warming. Within two days, the East Coast was besieged by a snow storm for the ages, an event one doesn't normally associate with warmth.

Advertisement

But here's the connection. Meteorologists predicted that this winter would produce more snow than usual in the United States because of the El Nino weather pattern, which releases heat and moisture from the Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere. And that phenomenon can, in turn, be linked to the long-term warming of the planet, chiefly from man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

This complexity of how climate change works may boggle the minds of skeptics, but leading scientists say it's exactly what should be expected. Rising global temperatures and ocean warming lead to more extreme weather events — both droughts and hurricanes, for instance — although that doesn't mean any particular storm is climate-driven. Weather has natural variations, of course, but climate change is rewriting the books in the long-term, at least as far as researchers can tell from weather data and other historical records.

So as odd as it may seem to ponder a warming planet while there's two and a half feet of snow on the ground, it's entirely appropriate given that the two circumstances are far from unrelated. What's particularly concerning in the latest NASA and NOAA report is that not only is 2015 the hottest year on record and followed 2014, the previous record holder, but that the amount of rise from the one year to the other is a record, too.

But even if one discounts year-to-year variations in temperature (after all, the average sometimes drops as well), what shouldn't be ignored is the decades of evidence that reveals a near-relentless rise around the globe. Skeptics may counter with their own charts and tables, but they are generally cherry-picked — singling out 1998 when an El Nino caused temperatures to rise and then fall, for instance, or focusing on weather, such as when Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor last February to "prove" the climate wasn't warming.

So for those still trapped indoors — and this makes a particularly good assignment for the students in the family — it's well worth the time to peruse the climate report that details these record-setting temperatures. A little objective evidence is worth reviewing if only to counter the propaganda dispensed by the fossil fuel companies or their political allies who aren't especially objective regarding the science involved but do have a keen interest in forestalling corrective actions that might reduce fossil fuel consumption.

The ramifications extend far beyond an East Coast blizzard that was not only predicted days in advance but fell conveniently on a weekend. A hotter planet and rising sea levels could spell far worse disasters in the not-so-distant future, from deadly heatwaves to crop losses, the flooding of coastal cities, greater political upheaval, disease outbreaks and on and on. Researchers have been warning about climate change since at least the 1980s, and some progress has been made (cars are more fuel efficient, power plants less likely to be coal-fired), but it's clear stronger action is needed, and average people need to speak out — as well as support candidates who, at minimum, take this critical issue more seriously than Donald "I am not a believer" Trump or, sadly, much of the rest of the Republican field running for president.

Advertisement
Advertisement