Editorial: Weather why’s, chapter 2

A couple of weeks ago an editorial in this space, “Weather why’s,” pointed out that bitterly cold weather here in Rappahannock County didn’t contradict the scientific consensus on global warming. Rather, the hypothesis actually seemed confirmed by the crazy weather patterns, such as a thermometer in Harris Hollow reading zero while on the very same day the lowest temperature in Nome, Alaska, was a balmy 33 degrees.

The latest numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide statistical validity to the anecdotal observation about Harris Hollow and Nome:

Yes, the eastern part of the United States last month was indeed one of the coldest places on earth, compared with seasonal norms; yet for the rest of the planet, it was the fourth warmest January on record! And Alaskans experienced average temperatures almost 15 degrees above normal. Brazil, much of Europe and China, and most of Australia also were unseasonably warm.

In fact, January was the 347th consecutive month with global temperatures above the 20th-century average. Since the U.S. covers only 2 percent of the surface of the earth, what happens in Rappahannock County obviously doesn’t have much global impact! To quote NOAA:

“Though warming has not been uniform across the planet, the upward trend in the globally averaged temperature shows that more areas are warming than cooling. From 1880 to 2012, the globally averaged surface temperature rose by 0.85-degrees C (1.5 degrees F). The rate of temperature increase has risen as well. For the last 50 years, global temperature rose at an average rate of about 0.13 degrees C (around 0.25 degrees F) per decade — almost twice as fast as the 0.07 degrees C per decade increase observed over the previous half-century. In the next 20 years, scientists project that global average temperature will rise by around 0.2 degrees C (about 0.33 degrees F) per decade.”

Yes, the planet is warming. The only questions open to debate are: 1. Are human activities the cause (high probability)? 2. Do we have the political will to do anything about it (low probability)?

Walter Nicklin