Unfortunately for an unscientifically inclined mind, one bitter cold winter is worth many mountains of research in the quest for the truth about climate change. And unfortunately for our choking biosphere, political action will likely remain an impossibility until we are well and truly past the alledged cessation of warming.
I received an apparently sincere comment that expressed what must be a common feeling in the general public:
You guys are so far scientifically over my head that it is impossible
for me to participate in this conversation. But consider that most
people are like me, stupid consumers. It might even be said from the
contacts I have in daily life that most people are even below my
abyssmal scientific comprehension level. We think about things like
sports and fashion and entertainment and bills. […] The
simple question I have is what I saw in an above headline. If it is so
warm, why is it so damn cold, with record breaking snowfall in certain
parts of the US right now. Nothing in the subsequent text answered the
question, at least not on my level. And it seems to me that somebody
MUST dumb down this conversation to communicate to the public. Right
now I am freezing my tail in lower than normal temps in TX and worrying
over the increase in my energy bill with my fixed income. I can only
imagine what people in Baltimore are feeling.
It is too easy for those of us engaged in the constant debates about both the real and the contrived technical minutia of anthropogenic global warming to brush off questions like this. It is basically what I have done in my guide entry about cold weather. I can only offer the excuse that I most often encounter that argument in situations where it is decidedly not a sincere query but it is a childish taunt.
The thing about weather is its variability from one day to the next is easily up to several hundred times that of climate from one year to the next. When we expect to see a trend in global temperatures of .2 over ten years it is really quite easy to still get record breaking cold snaps. Broke the record by a whopping 15 degrees, did we? Just imagine, without global warming we would have broken it by 15.2! (You see what I mean).
Rather than try to explain it in any more detail than that I would invite anyone at all sincerely confused by a record breaking cold snap in the midst of record breaking global warming to watch this, one of Peter’s recent Climate Crock videos.
It is very worth the time even for people who do get the difference between weather and climate for its clear presentation and interesting content (okay, and a reasonable dose of snark, too!). The bit that impressed me the most was the study of the frequency of record breaking temperatures, I forget the details since I watched it a few weeks ago now (maybe someone can post it in the comments?). If you did not have the time to watch, what the study showed is that far from being inconsistent with a warming world, record breaking cold events are completely expected. Currently, record warm temperatures out number cold ones by two to one, but rather surprisingly, models predict that we will still see the occasional record cold day in one spot or another all the way out to 2100. By that time the global mean temperature will be 3 or 4oC higher and the ratio of warm to cold records will be 50 to one, but it will still happen!
Also, for any of you in the states who would like to see a proper scientific write up putting the US cold snap this winter into an historic and current context, James Hansen has just such an essay here [PDF]. Have a read!
(Niagara Falls, 1911)