As temperatures dip to record lows this week, a series of winter storms has been traversing the country with some areas experiencing their heaviest snowfall in decades, and this makes everyone afraid that the global warming and climate change monster is out of the woods.
But again, that can’t be further from the truth. Sooner than later, the effects of global warming will catch up with us.
But how can all this horrible winter weather be taking place if climate change is truly happening?
The answer is in the 140 years of climate data, and not tomorrow’s weather forecast.
“When we talk about weather, we’re simply talking about what occurs on a daily basis, what do you see outside your window right now. However, when we talk about climate, climate is the average weather that we get over a long period of time,” Kevin Petty, director of science and forecast operations for The Weather Company, an IBM company, told reporters during an interview. “And when people are referring to climate change, they’re referring to how those averages are going to change over a long period of time.”
Rising average global temperatures have been well-documented since proper record keeping started in 1880. It’s also clearly documented that the rate of warming has been increasing so rapidly. According to NOAA records, the seven warmest years ever recorded started in 2014, and the 10 warmest since 2005.
The last 10 years have been the warmest decade on record, with 2020 ranking among the warmest years.
There’s no indication it will be slowing down, even during winter. January 2021 goes down in history books as the 45th consecutive January and 433rd consecutive month having temperatures higher than the average for the 20th century.
It’s crucial to note that these averages reflect trends around the globe—and not those of a given town, city, state, country or continent.
“There should not be this expectation that there is an equal change in the patterns that we see all over the globe. That’s not going to be the case,” Petty stated. “There is going to be variability from one region of the world to the next.”
Even though one region may report extreme temperature patterns during a given period, another may only witness slight changes.
“Record highs might be that much hotter,” Bob Henson, one of the writers at Yale Climate Connections and author of “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change,” told Storm Assist “By the same token you can still have extreme cold and maybe just a slight bit warmer on average.”
Those soaring records are becoming frequent too. Between 1900 and 1980, a new temperature record was set averagely after every 13.5 years, according to NOAA. By 2020, the frequency had risen to once every three years.
Record lows and record highs can happen concurrently, in the same region or in locations that are far apart. This week, while areas like Dallas, Omaha and Oklahoma City experienced record lows, most parts of the globe recorded above normal. Tampa could experience similar or surpass its record of daily highest. Greenland is expected to record 10 to 15 degrees above average.
While the focus this week is on temperatures, they are just a drop in the ocean of the overall history. Climate change contributes to extreme weather events including drought, sea level rise, bushfires, flooding, heatwaves, storms and more. Scientists warn it will be the driving force behind all extreme weather in future.
So, what’s the bottom line in all these? Well, the short-term spells of cold can’t dampen down decades of warmer temperatures.
“It’s been described as the weather is the clothes you wear on a given day, and the climate is the wardrobe. You may need more t-shirts in your wardrobe, but you’re still going to need a parka,” Henson said.
“Climate change is never going to erase the day to day vagaries of weather.”
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