Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The un-winter

After a very rough year -- from last winter's relentless, roof crushing snow, through two consecutive tropical storms that left Connecticut in the 19th Century for a week and went on to destroy the road network in Vermont, to a bizarre October snowstorm that wiped out the electric grid for the second time in two months, we figured we were headed for climate apocalypse. Then came the winter of 2011-2012. Or rather, it didn't.

Yeah, it gets below freezing at night but, except for a two day cold spell where we had basically normal January temperatures, it's been downright balmy in the afternoons. There has been no snow since October (sic), there is no snow on the ground, and there is rain in the forecast for next week. If you'll take a look at the snow cover map you'll see that there is basically none in the lower 48 except for the lake effect region of upper New York and northern New England. (Why would anyone choose to live in Buffalo?)

This may be convenient for homeowners and municipal budgets, but it is actually bad for agriculture. Snow insulates the soil and keeps it warm. It hides the voles from the hawks, and when it melts, it saturates the soil to get spring off to a good start. I'm sure the deer and turkeys are happy, but I'd like to slow down their depredations. (Yesterday, heading to work, I discovered the biggest flock of turkeys I have ever seen in my field. There may well have been 100 of them -- dozens, anyway.)

I'm sure winter will come eventually, but at this point, it will already be short. Does this have to do with global climate change? As with all weather, sorta kinda. This year, in sharp contrast to the past two, we've had a polar oscillation that has kept the arctic air bottled up. But it is fair to say that given this pattern, we're averaging a couple of degrees warmer than we otherwise would have. And when that's the difference between snow and rain, it means bare ground and that, in turn, means warmer temperatures on sunny afternoons.

The reason I go off on all this is that as you may recall, when we had all that snow in previous years, Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe were chortling about how ridiculous the whole anthropogenic climate change thing was. Of course that was nonsense then -- the planet as a whole went right on warming, the arctic was very unusually warm,and the temperatures in the continental U.S. were normal. It's just that there was a lot of snow. But this year, with unusually warm weather in D.C. and everywhere else from Montana to North Dakota, I hear nothing from them.

So what's it going to take to get our rotten to the core political system to function and begin to respond to the greatest crisis humanity has faced since our unexplained population bottleneck 400,000 years ago? You tell me.


robin andrea said...

Texas has to run out of water and burn. That ought to do it. (I'm kidding of course. Even that wouldn't do it!)

Daniel said...

at least 10 more years

kathy a. said...

texas has had a rough year; even when many of us were getting soaked a few months back, they were droughting and burning.

our hills should be all brilliant green by now, especially since they got an early start with lots of rain in the fall. but it has been dry lately.