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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Too White a Christmas for "Global Warming"?

Critics of climate change like snow. They like it cold. And all the harsh weather experienced these past few days in Europe is, for them, glorious proof positive that "global warming" is a farce. After all, if Lady Gaga had to cancel her show in Paris because of snow, snow and more snow, then how could anyone say that the planet is warming up?

Here in the real world, where climate and weather are two different realities, the recent amounts of snow and bitter cold suggest that the planet is distributing thermal energy and moisture in new and odd ways. Indeed, a changing climate would probably do just that. So is this all a sign of the new normal? Will places that never had to worry about snow removal--like, oh, airports in Europe and Great Britain--now have to buy plows and salt by the ton?

If so, what is behind the uncommonly (and unwelcome) white Christmas across much of Europe? The AFP explores the questions in a recent article by Marlowe Hood. In part, we read that
new research, however, goes further, showing that global warming has actually contributed to Europe's winter blues.

Rising temperatures in the Arctic -- increasing at two to three times the global average -- have peeled back the region's floating ice cover by 20 percent over the last three decades.

This has allowed more of the Sun's radiative force to be absorbed by dark-blue sea rather than bounced back into space by reflective ice and snow, accelerating the warming process.

More critically for weather patterns, it has also created a massive source of heat during the winter months.

"Say the ocean is at zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit)," said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

"That is a lot warmer than the overlying air in the polar area in winter, so you get a major heat flow heating up the atmosphere from below which you don't have when it is covered by ice. That's a massive change," he told AFP in an interview.

The result, according to a modelling study published earlier this month the Journal of Geophysical Research, is a strong high-pressure system over the newly-exposed sea which brings cold polar air, swirling counter-clockwise, into Europe.

"Recent severe winters like last year's or the one of 2005-2006 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it," explained Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study and a physicist at the Potsdam Institute.

"These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and north Asia," he said.
And so while scientists are still figuring all this out, one thing we know for certain is that something is causing a new kind of messy winter weather in places that aren't accustomed to it. This is causing suffering and impacting economies, which causes more suffering. So a Catholic response is to both use human reason to understand what is going on and to faithfully pray for those whose lives are in turmoil--that is, those either stranded in airports, or the elderly that are isolated in their homes, or the poor who can't afford to heat their homes.

In other words, what's happening in many parts of the globe is not a laughing matter. May God bless and protect all those suffering in so many unexpected ways, and may humankind learn, grow and adapt to the rather odd climatological and meteorological events that it (that is, we) could have very well brought about.


  1. More heat in the Arctic Ocean, and also in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans, means less ice cover in November/December, and that means more moisture evaporated into the atmosphere in late fall. Moisture drives nor'easters and hurricanes alike.

    A stronger storm is better at pulling polar air down into the northern half of that storm. In New England, storms regularly form off of the New Jersey coast and then pass right over Nantucket, so that we're often on the rain-snow line. A stronger storm will pull that snow line south. At the same time, the stronger storm dumps more snow on us.

    The net result in New England seems to be far more snowfall in October, November and December, from what I've seen lately.

    Some years we manage to get snowfall before the first frost, which sounds odd but that's what happens. It's cold enough at 10,000 feet so that the snow can fall at a surface temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and the greenery endures under the snow until it melts.

  2. Well said, Paul. The problem is that so many people have "global warming" in their head that the thought that climate change can produce MORE snow is, to them, a joke. Education is paramount. Keep on commenting! (And as the first commentor ever on this blog, you win ... ummm, my eternal gratitude.)


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