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Everyone seems to have been talking about the weather in the past
few days. But what have scientists thought, especially those whose business
it is to look at the issue of climate change?
As this ScienCentral News video reports, when looking at the big picture, this
weekâ€™s weather doesnâ€™t change anything.
Climate change and weather
If you were one of the people who had to deal with record-breaking snowfall
that buried the eastern United States over the Presidentâ€™s Day weekend,
you might have wondered just how all this might fit in with the issue of global
The answer, according to climatologists who study the issue, is that very little,
if anything about climate change can be read into a single storm, or even
a yearâ€™s worth of weather.
senior scientist at the National
Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), says, “I think the kind
of snowstorm weâ€™re seeing in the east—thereâ€™s nothing inconsistent
about that kind of storm and a progressive warming of the climate.”
Also, when you talk about weather in one place, it might not match the weather
elsewhere. For example, the western part of the United States is experiencing
the latest in a series of drought years. The Presidentâ€™s Day storm dumped
more snow on many parts of the east coast than had fallen on Denver during
the entire winter up to that time. The day Washington D.C. was digging out
of snow, The Denver
Post carried stories speculating about upcoming summertime water restrictions.
While 2003 threatens to be especially dry in the west, previous dry years are
also contributing to the situation. Is several years worth of weather a sign
of climate change?
Many climatologists, while watching the dry weather, know that the drought
is important, but are still hesitant to point to even a number of years of
unusual weather as climate change.
Director of the Environmental
and Societal Impact Group at NCAR, says, “The droughts that we're
experiencing over the last decade, certainly in my opinion, still fall in
the category of climate variability. There is the possibility that this is
some emerging impact of climate change, but we haven't been able to come up
with a convincing argument for it to be climate change.”
But some scientists look at the storm as a good test for the computers and
the programs used to forecast climate change. Professor Andrew
P. Dobson of Princeton University, who has published extensively on the
impact of climate change on disease, looked at the warnings that preceded
the storm as validation for the computerized models. “The models that
were used to predict that snowfall were exactly the same models that are used
to predict climate change,” he points out. “So, if you believe
thereâ€™s snow on the east coast, and [you] adjusted your airline travel
accordingly, then you should also believe in global warming because itâ€™s
essentially the same underlying process.”
He also notes that “99.9 percent” of scientists worldwide now agree
that the planet is undergoing some sort of climate change. Additionally, in
2001 the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change linked human activity—most notably, “the
use of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers”—to climate change.
This does not mean that the scientific community is unanimous about the details
involving climate change, something Mearns called the “uncertainty factor.”
But she urged people to not discount the general findings, just because the
scientific community is unable at this time to pin down specific temperature
changes, exact dates, and detailed impacts.