Weather is usually a topic about which everybody can comment, reflect upon, and even expect to change fairly quickly. Much of our weather is unremarkable but like many other topics the extremes are what grab our attention. As the headline grabbing Polar Vortex event transforms into the classic January thaw the obvious debate has evolved – what caused this and is it related to climate change ? Not to be ignored is the news that the Australian continent is experiencing a heat wave of historic proportions which is following on the another record breaking event one year ago.
We need to keep in mind the difference between weather (what goes on in our backyard from day to day) and climate which is the stuff that happens over decades or centuries in a general area. Part of the surprise for those of us in the Mohawk valley is the fact that the past several winters have been extremely mild in comparison. Remember the lovely weeks of sunshine and warm temperatures in September, October and November ? How quickly we forget !
Sadly, the debate is framed in large part by ideology rather than science. Weather events like the recent chill or the Australian heat wave are just that – but they may well signal something is changing on a larger scale. The good news is that scientists around the world are diligently attempting to evaluate the data being collected and distribute that for reasoned discussion. Just as today’s daily forecast models are based on historical events coupled with current observations it is apparent that the global model for extreme events will require more data collection and analysis.
The recent Polar Vortex was accurately forecast well in advance and those who took precautions were well advised but the larger picture of assigning cause and effect will require much more analysis. For now the extremes have our attention.