Words on Weather & Climate by Craig James — January 14, 2010

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

Cold weather makes headlines

by CRAIG JAMES

“World copes with Arctic weather…”

“Winter Could Be Worst in 25 Years for USA…”

“CHILL MAP…”

“3 Deaths Due To Cold

in Memphis…”

“GAS SUPPLIES RUNNING OUT IN UK…”

“Elderly burn books for warmth?”

“Vermont sets ‘all-time record for one snowstorm’…”

“Iowa temps ‘a solid 30 degrees below normal’…”

“Seoul buried in heaviest snowfall in 70 years…”

“Historic ice build-up shuts down NJ nuclear

power plant…”

“Midwest Sees Near-Record Lows, Snow By The Foot…”

“Miami shivers from coldest weather in decade…”

These are just a few of the headlines from newspapers last week about the very cold weather across much of the northern hemisphere. In the first 10 days of January, there were over 700 cold temperature records either tied or broken in just the United States alone, making it one of the coldest starts to a new year on record.

There were snowflakes reported Saturday morning, January 9 as far south as Naples, Florida, and even into the northern portions of Dade County, where Miami is located. The last time that happened was back in 1977. Over 100,000 tropical fish have died in south Florida from the cold and—in one of the strangest reports I have ever seen—giant iguanas became comatose from the cold and fell from trees. The National Weather Service could have issued a falling iguana warning.

One winter, obviously, doesn’t make a climate trend and just as you can’t point to one storm or heat wave to prove global warming, you can’t point to one cold wave to indicate the end of global warming. Using one cold wave to claim climate change is equally in error.

In a White House press briefing, Friday, Jan. 8, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated, “Worldwide record cold is the result of climate change.” At least he knew how ridiculous it would sound if he had said it was the result of global warming.

One weather pattern is not climate. The cold weather this winter can very easily be explained by natural phenomena such as changing ocean currents. However, the fact there hasn’t been any warming in the past decade and that a number of new studies suggest global cooling on the horizon, may indeed indicate a change in the climate. I’ll have more on this in later articles.

One thing this winter weather has done so far is point out how awful the many forecasts issued last summer and fall were that called for a warmer-than-average winter. The Climate Prediction Center here in the United States issued forecasts all last year up until October, stating this would be a mild winter across most of the country. We are now about halfway through the winter season and there would have to be quite a turn around for that to happen. It certainly doesn’t look likely, even though this week has finally brought a thaw to much of the country.

As late as the end of November, the UK Meteorological Office in England forecast the possibility of the warmest winter of record for Great Britain. It may actually turn out to be the coldest in 50 years. There is a wonderful video of a BBC reporter interviewing the head of the Meteorological Office about the bad seasonal forecasts that have been issued. You can see the video online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/the_daily_politics/8443687.stm.

It is a very legitimate question to ask, as the reporter in the video does, why we should believe the climate model forecasts for the next 50 to 100 years when they completely miss the forecasts for the next season. If they can’t get the forecasts for the near term correct, which take into account natural processes we understand fairly well, how can we believe the very long-range forecasts that attempt to incorporate things we don’t understand well, such as ocean-atmosphere interactions in a possibly warmer world? I’ll have more on this subject also in later articles.

 

Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

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