Runge reservoir some forty miles north of Santiago February 3, 2012. (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)
Climate change often seems more palpable (and gets more media coverage) at this time of year, after heat waves have hit parts of the country. But polls suggest many members of the public are confused about the connection between climate change and cold weather. As I noted in a post last week, belief in climate change drops among Americans during cold weather and dipped slightly after this past winter. Moreover, climate deniers and right-wing pundits tend to hype winter weather, as if climate models never anticipated another flake of snow.
But a new report produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published on Tuesday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, shows that both cold and hot weather in 2012 were heavily under the influence of climate change.
Among the highlights, the United States had its warmest year since the country began keeping records in 1895. Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming had their driest years on record. Last summer, delivered the biggest wildfires in thirteen years, including the largest fire in New Mexico’s history (more than 460 square miles, or about the size of the city of Los Angeles).
But even though the planet as a whole is getting warmer, the report makes it clear that there are new trends of weird and extreme weather in all seasons. For example, Hurricane Sandy sent record early-season snow to central Appalachia.
In Europe, “an exceptional cold spell” fell over several countries last year. Berlin’s cold snap was chillier than the typical Moscow winter, according to the World Meterological Organization. Norway set new record cold temperatures for February (about minus-four degrees Fahrenheit in Hammerfest, for instance).
The causes of Europe’s more frequent cold snaps weren’t fully understood until recently. New studies, published a few months ago, revealed the reasons that climate change is sending more frigid polar air to Europe—because of a complex interaction between the jet stream and the amount of Arctic ice, which continues to shrink every year.
The tome-sized NOAA report is a reminder that the global climate is extremely complex, and climate trends can’t be easily simplified. But the planet is getting warmer, even while ski seasons in the western United States shorten and Europe gets more deep freezes.
Yes, this weather is crazy. And yes, it is our fault.