By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association
We weren’t ready for the recent cold snap. Daily high and low temperatures in our area and others set record lows. The hose froze, as did the animals’ water tanks.
We were not alone. Toronto’s Pearson Airport temporarily canceled morning North American flights as a result of the extreme cold.
Buffalo, New York, while always ready, was caught off guard by the record early snowfall, having experienced nearly a year’s worth of snow in three days. Buffalo Niagara International Airport began canceling flights as motorists were stranded waiting for help from the fire department.
Wondering what others thought of the cold, we checked online and found numerous articles regarding last January’s cold snap. Weather events such as last year’s and this year’s cold spells cause confusion in the public. Global warming deniers use the events to argue against climate change.
Anders Carlson, keynote speaker at the 2009 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, who has spent years researching the melting Greenland Ice Sheet, said: “The cold snaps are just weather, not climate, and a lot of places in the world are quite warm! For instance, while Illinois was cold last winter, Oregon was warmer than normal.”
Short-term changes in the weather are not changes in climate. Weather, defined by NASA, refers to “conditions of the atmosphere … over a short period on time.” Climate refers to conditions in the atmosphere over a long period of time.
“If it’s so cold here, what happened to global warming?” can be heard during weather forecasts. Cold weather in the U.S. (which covers less than 2 percent of the Earth’s surface) does not mean that other parts of the Earth are not warming. During January 2014, as the U.S. experienced record cold temperatures, Australia was suffering record high temperatures reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
The polar vortex, a rotating pool of cold, dense air that has caused recent cold spells, can become unbalanced by changing temperatures in the upper atmosphere. Air sinks at polar latitudes and rises at lower latitudes. Excess heat rising to the upper atmosphere that then sinks in polar latitudes can throw the polar vortex out of balance, causing it to wobble and “spill” southward, bringing arctic temperatures with it.
Removing carbon trapped within the earth for millions of years and releasing it into the atmosphere on the scale done within the past century-and-a-half makes it reasonable to expect some impact.
As a result, Arctic ice is melting; photos of polar bears stranded on small ice floes are commonplace. The oceans are becoming measurably warmer. Rising sea levels are beginning to inundate island nations.
Considering the increase of extreme weather events, some consider “global weirding” as a better term than either climate change or global warming.
We are told that with the globe warming unevenly, we should expect more unpleasant weather events such as the recent cold. Despite the U.S. cold spell, NASA expects that, globally, 2014 will be the warmest year on record, driven by the heat stored in the oceans.
Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2014, issue