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'Snowmaggedon' in Washington spurs climate change doubters

February 10, 2010 |  2:32 pm

Imhofegloo

Mark Twain had it right: Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.

So, is the massive dumping of snow from the Mid-Atlantic to New England proof positive that climate change is untrue, as doubters such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have taken the opportunity to trumpet? (His family built an igloo, declared it Al Gore's new home and put up signs asking people to honk if they liked global warming).

Not if you read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report carefully.

First, the cold weather spells in the East have been linked with an "El Nino" year and a shift in the arctic oscillation that sent a jet of cold air down into the Eastern United States and elsewhere, all cyclically occurring events regardless of the overall trend in average planetary temperature, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out recently.

Lost in the hype over the East Coast cold snap around the Christmas holidays was the fact that at the same time, parts of Alaska were unseasonably warm. And the record cold that descended as far south as Florida in January? Globally, January 2010 was the warmest January on record, based on satellite data that date to 1979, according to AccuWeather.com.

As for East Coast getting snow in February, the IPCC scientists, citing peer-reviewed studies, concluded that the severity of precipitation events (and snow is one of them) would increase in a warming global climate.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a new backgrounder addressing recent controversies over the IPCC report, offers this:

"Between 1958 and 2007, New England saw a 67 percent increase in heavy precipitation events and the Midwest experienced a 31 percent increase, according to the 2009 federal report "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States." The report documented a 20 percent average increase for the entire country.

To be sure, the IPCC has been forced to acknowledge errors and unsubstantiated statements in one of its landmark 2007 reports. The irregularities had to do with predictions of the expected effects of warming. None of them, however, undermined the report's consensus that the planet has warmed and that man's activities have contributed to the warming.

For instance, buried in the report was an unsubstantiated assertion that it was highly likely the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The summary of the report was far less assertive. It said that "if current warming rates are maintained, Himalayan glaciers could decay at very rapid rates."

Some science on what's going on in Central Asia:

"Glacier retreat was dominant in the 20th century, except for a decade or two around 1970, when some glaciers gained mass and even reacted with re-advances of a few hundred metres. After 1980, ice loss and glacier retreat was dominant again. In Bhutan, Eastern
Himalaya, an eight per cent glacier area loss was observed between 1963 and 1993 (Karma et al. 2003). Berthier et al. (2007) used remote sensing data to investigate glacier thickness changes in the Himachal Pradesh, Western Himalaya. They found an annual ice thickness loss of about 0.8 m w.e. per year between 1999 and 2004 – about twice the long-term rate of the period 1977–1999."

That's from the United Nations Environmental Program's report on glaciers, based on the World Glacier Monitoring Service, participants in the IPCC process.

The doubters on global climate change, however, are not retreating like the majority of the globe's glaciers. Utah's House of Representatives on Monday passed a nonbinding resolution expressing its doubt about climate change. (The Beehive State, incidentally, also is considering opening up another radioactive waste site.)

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: The Inhofe family igloo in Washington. Credit: Courtesy of Sen. Inhofe's office

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