Weird weather, weird science
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Even though health care hysteria is currently in the limelight, let's not forget the next imposition waiting in the wings -- "cap-and-trade," which is based on the notion that people are warming the planet's climate. So, as Western Pennsylvania is headed for its long-awaited spring thaw, maybe it's time to reflect on seasonal weather events, their relationship to climate change and expensive remedies to rescue people from supposed meteorological mayhem.
Weather is used as a pawn in the climate-change game. Temperatures are extremely high for several days in the Northeast and climate activists scream, "Global-warming doom!" Snow dumps for days on the Mid-Atlantic region and skeptics cry, "Foul!" But what on Earth does local weather have to do with global climate?
Plenty. It's the day-to-day, area-by-area accumulation of the manifestations of atmospheric dynamics across the planet that produce the global climate in the long run. And climate conditions are definitely changing, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. So, what else is new?
Let's consider what may really be happening.
As temperatures rise, the atmosphere's capacity to retain water vapor increases. True. Some, though, have used this fact to say that the spectacular snowfalls this winter are another proof of global warming. And, of course, any time global warming is implicated so is the human contribution to it. (This is an a priori argument, in no way proven.) But, more than just water retention is happening in the air to produce snow-swamped yardsticks, bursting thermometers and hurricanes named Hannibal.
Think of the atmosphere as an "ocean of air." Thermal differences, circulatory motions, chemical additions and subtractions, and such will all act in concert to make the seas stir, swirl and swell. And, like the ocean, the atmosphere has a huge capacity to mitigate large-scale disturbances to its overall character. In fact, like the ocean, the atmosphere has a checks-and-balances system to maintain the status quo.
Sure, dramatic twists and turns can occur, but such conditions typically arise from catastrophic events such as, in the oceanic case, underwater earthquakes generating tsunamis or massive land-based ice sheets raising sea levels. Note, though, in both instances, the action of humans had no bearing on the sky-high waves and icy plunges of the past.
Ocean water and ice and water vapor are the very implements in the atmospheric system that keeps global average temperatures bobbing around 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Increasing water vapor can help to slow and reverse rising temperatures by producing more clouds and on occasion increasing storm intensity. What we are likely witnessing is natural forces mundanely adjusting the system to stabilize thermometers and calm fears that refuse to be calmed.
Another major contributor to diurnal weather conditions is the general circulation of air. In the case of our February "snowmaggedon," the southerly component of the storm track allowed the system to draw in huge quantities of Gulf and Atlantic sea moisture to enhance the snow-production capacity of the storm. Alterations to the general circulation could be attributed to some chemical changes in the atmosphere, such as increased carbon dioxide, but they are more likely, once again, due to the natural variation of a combination of parameters such as water vapor, sea-surface temperatures, ground cover and solar irradiance.
Looking at the big picture that includes human interpretation of all this complexity and a potential solution to it, we should be comforted in the knowledge that the natural system is designed to maintain quite tolerable living conditions, not everywhere and not at all times, but on balance in enough places and times to make nearly everyone happy.
Furthermore, we obviously have enough money and drive to make happiness happen if so many are willing to spend trillions of dollars to save humanity from a mere forecast of disaster. If such predicted calamity is at least quite questionable and built in large measure on a United Nations and climate-gated foundation, don't we owe it to the truly indigent of the world to reconsider how money will be spent to help them here and now and not by and by?
This, of course, supposes that we really do wish to help those in need and not simply use them like the weather as pawns in the climate-change game.
First Published March 17, 2010 12:00 am