Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hottest year ever!?

As I mentioned last week, the heat has been the talk of the summer. No, I am not talking about the Miami Heat of the NBA and LeBron James, but the scorching temperatures in the eastern United States. Connecticut has been sweltering nearly every day. Could this be the hottest year ever officially recorded...on Earth? The first six months of 2010 had the warmest average temperature on a global scale dating back to 1880, so to answer that question - yes! NASA recently released this study concerning global surface temperature change.

It not only mentions 2010 as the record-setting year (thus far), it goes to great lengths to demonstrate that climate change is very real. It is definitely worth at least a glance. NASA even delves into the politicization of climate science, urging people to take the time to understand the data and accept what is occurring around them. Whether it is various media entities or a person's own perceptions a large percentage of the population, if not the majority, doubts climate change. Even leaving out the seemingly obvious causes there can be no argument that the world is changing. The science is not lying.

I frequently find myself explaining difference between weather and climate. Snow in January does not mean climate change is nonexistent, and as ridiculous as that sounds, some media outlets claimed just that during this year's repeated snowstorms in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC. They believed that copious amounts of snow in the middle of the winter meant the Earth was the same as it always was – or colder! Similarly, the mere fact it is 99 degrees in July does not mean the planet is warming, either. Those are examples of weather events, meaning the atmospheric conditions at a specific time and place. Climate is the long-term average of the weather.

If LeBron James misses one shot, or even five in a row, does that mean he is a terrible basketball player? Of course not! One has to look at a player’s entire season or career to judge them, just as scientists must look at a prolonged period to understand climate. There will always be good or bad “games” just as there will be times of drought, flood, heat waves, and record snows. The bottom line is that the climate tells us the Earth is warming over time.

A study released on July 8 by Stanford University looks at heat waves and extremely high temperatures that could be commonplace in the United States by 2039. The short article mentions the heat wave we have been suffering through, saying that we could see an increase of just this sort of event in the next 30 years.

For a basic idea of how warm it has been here I gleaned a bit of data from KBDR, the weather station at Bridgeport’s airport in Stratford. I used the average monthly temperature, which is defined exactly as it reads. Here are the measured 2010 averages (in Fahrenheit) for each month with the departure from normal in parentheses:

January: 29.7 (-0.2)
February: 32.5 (+0.6)
March: 45.0 (+5.5)
April: 53.9 (+5.0)
May: 62.1 (+3.1)
June: 71.8 (+3.8)
Through July 13th: 78.3 (+5.3)

As you can see, we have been way above average since March. You do not need to be a scientist to know this. It has felt unseasonably warm simply walking out of the door on most days since then, from our early spring flowers to this summer heat wave. Does this year alone in Connecticut tell us the Earth is warming? No way. However, when the whole planet has been increasing in temperature for decades, and this year is the hottest yet…that means we have a problem.

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