The Intersection

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The story goes that when Jule Gregory Charney, at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, ran an early numerical weather prediction in 1953, he and his colleagues managed to correctly hindcast a big snowstorm that had hit Washington, D.C., the previous year (fooling forecasters at the time). The quotation above is what Charney apparently said in a late night call to Harry Wexler, research director of the U.S. Weather Bureau. The moment has come to be regarded as a kind of turning point in meteorological history.

I couldn’t help thinking of those words as our first snowfall–or at least, the first to which I’ve been a witness this winter–arrived in D.C. less than an hour ago. I’ve been living here 5 years now, and I don’t remember a year in which the first snow came so late. Neither do I remember anything analogous to the seriously balmy days that have preceded it in recent weeks, one of which forced me to go home to change clothes because I’d dressed too warmly.

None of which is to say that my memory is trustworthy on such matters of past weather. My anecdotes can be more or less ignored, but the fact remains that weird winter weather has generally been a persistent theme of the past several months, across the country and the world. Weather in one place is never “global warming.” But rightly or wrongly, weird weather in enough places will surely help convince the public that something is afoot–thus adding still more momentum as we head into what I suspect will be a pivotal year for the climate issue…


  1. #1 llewelly
    January 21, 2007

    I believe there was no significant snow (that is, only trace amounts were observed) in DC in the winters of 1972-3 and 1997-8 (both of those years being remarkably strong El ninos.) At least this supports me. According to this there was a trace snowfall in December. The 2-day history does not yet show more than a trace amount. So as far as snow goes, DC’s 2006-7 winter is in line with two of the strongest El-ninos on record … but as you know the 2006-7 El-nino appears to have peaked at a moderate level, and is forecast to decline.

  2. #2 bigTom
    January 21, 2007

    And this is shaping up to be a very untypical El-Nino year. Here in California, El Nino years are supposed to be very wet as the Pacific storm track comes in further south than normal. Exactly the oposite has been happening, we are about 50% of normal precipitation, and Washington and Oregon have been getting very heavy precipitation. Only in New Mexico, where El Ninos are supposed to bring real-winter does the pattern seem to be holding.

  3. #3 Carl Manaster
    January 22, 2007

    I see that Texas’ patented Cloud Defense System is performing admirably.

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