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Saturday, October 29, 2011

'It's cold today: So much for global warming'

As I write this, several inches of snow are predicted later today and this evening for the northeastern U.S., and the predictable flood of lame-ass jokes about Al Gore, stupid scientists, and global warming alarmists is clogging Twitter.  U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) set the gold standard for this genre of know-nothing humor, encouraging his grandchildren to build an igloo in Washington, D.C., in February 2010 during a record snowfall there and dubbing it "Al Gore's new home." Photo op! (the media equivalent of "Squirrel!")

To quote a favorite movie line from Michael Caine, pardon me while I fall down laughing.

So, what's the real story, as opposed to the line being pushed by the fossil fuel industries and their dupes?  Does a cold snap, and an early snowfall, really mean we can ignore climate science?  Um .... no.

Skeptical Science covers both phenomena, cold days and heavy snow, in its usual informative style. For cold days, it points out that in recent decades, the ratio of new record high temperatures to record low temperatures in the U.S. has risen dramatically.  For more detail on this issue, see this post from Climate Progress on record highs and record lows.  But, here's the key point to remember: while the underlying model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) suggests that the ratio of record highs to record lows could climb from 2-to-1 during the 2000s to 50-to-1 by 2100, even in 2100, there would still be occasional record cold days somewhere in the U.S.  What would those record cold days say about global warming?  Not a damn thing.

While we are on the subject, a couple of additional things to note, which make it clear that the trend toward higher temperatures continues inexorably:

1) The ratio of record highs to lows (for the date) spiked in the U.S. during the summer of 2011. For August, in particular, it reached the alarming level of 22-to-1.

2) According to the National Climatic Data Center, August 2011 was also the "318th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985."

As for heavy snow, it's actually an expectable and predicted outcome of global warming.  Why?  To quote Skeptical Science, "Global temperatures in the last few months of record snowfall are some of the hottest on record. Warming causes more moisture in the air which leads to more extreme precipitation events. This includes more heavy snowstorms in regions where snowfall conditions are favourable. Far from contradicting global warming, record snowfall is predicted by climate models and consistent with our expectation of more extreme precipitation events." (emphasis mine)

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