Words on Weather & Climate — April 1, 2010

More on winter 2009-10

by CRAIG JAMES

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

 

I mentioned in an earlier article that meteorological winter is the months of December, January and February. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) has now released their summary of this

past winter for the United States. You can find the write-up online at www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100310_cooler.html.

On the map shown here, the blue colors represent colder-than-average temperatures with the tan and orange colors warmer than average. It is obvious that most of the United States had a colder-than-average winter. In fact, a few spots in southern Texas and southern Mississippi had the coldest winter on record. In the write-up you will see that NCDC states “63% of the U.S. was cooler than average.” I challenge anyone above a third-grade level to look at the map and tell me the amount of blue doesn’t cover more than 63% of the country. It certainly looks more like at least 75% of the U.S. had a cold winter.

Also of note, NCDC does not rank this winter. They always state something like, “This was the third warmest winter of record,” or something like that when the weather is warm, but no mention of where this cold winter ranked. By the way, notice that this winter was called “cooler” than average, not “colder” than average.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Al Gore had stated global warming was responsible for this cold and snowy winter in the south and east. He states on his blog: “Fact: Climate change causes more frequent and severe snowstorms. Record snowstorms need two things: temperatures below freezing, and very high humidity. On a planet warmer by a few degrees on average, the Northeast U.S. will still have plenty of days below freezing; the big difference will be warmer seas producing higher levels of moisture in the air—and therefore more severe cold-season storms.”

Not only is this statement at odds with the computer models, but let’s take a look and see whether the seas were actually warmer than normal and whether there has been higher levels of moisture in the air. It is pretty easy to check this out, although something tells me Mr. Gore didn’t bother to see if his theory was supported by the facts.

From the following graph—which is from NOAA and can be found at www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/map/images/sst/sst.anom.seasonal.gif—we can see a couple of things. First of all, for this winter season, most of the water temperatures along the Gulf and east coasts of the U.S. were either normal or below normal as shown by the white and blue colors. Therefore, his statement about warmer seas isn’t correct.

It is also interesting to see the warm pool of water in the central Pacific, shown by the yellow and orange colors. This is the signature of the El Niño, which was actually the main driver of this past winter, regardless of what Mr. Gore would want us to believe.

On a side note, there is an area of warmer-than-normal water temperatures between Central America and Africa. This is the primary Atlantic hurricane breeding ground and may mean a higher number of tropical storms this year.

The following figure shows the specific humidity (a measure of moisture in the air) at about the 10,000-foot level, which is where meteorologists consider that most of the precipitation forms. This chart is for the western Atlantic and Gulf areas and can be found at www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/cgi-bin/data/timeseries/timeseries1.pl. The graph is of the trend in moisture content over the last 60 years. The trend on this graph is the same as the trend at all other levels of the atmosphere, too, and as you can clearly see, the trend is down—just the opposite of what Mr. Gore would have us believe.

Of course, the mainstream media just reports what Mr. Gore says. Apparently no one bothered to check the facts. I guess these can be called “inconvenient truths.” This winter’s snowstorms were just weather and had nothing to do with climate change. By the way, did you hear what former President Bill Clinton had to say about the first day of spring? “It is otherwise known as Al Gore’s proof of global warming.”

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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