Brrr… this is global warming??

If you live in the Northeast or upper Midwest of the United States, it’s cold outside – very cold. I did a series of radio interviews on global warming yesterday, and I kept getting the same question: “How can there be global warming when it’s so cold outside??” Indeed, some talk radio hosts are now proclaiming that global warming is clearly a myth, given the current cold snap.

The science skeptics are at it again, so let’s go over the facts.

Global warming is about the long-term, decade-to-decade increase in the average temperature around the globe.

This cold snap is only in our corner of the world. While we are experiencing frigid temperatures, other folks are getting unseasonably warm temperatures:

  • In Beijing, February temperatures are higher than at any time in recorded history. Trees are blooming and skating on the city’s normally solid lakes has been banned. More from AFP.
  • In Sweden, the Alpine Skiing World Championships postponed the women’s Super G race because parts of the course were dangerously soft due to high temperatures. More from wire services.
  • In southern Europe, a yearly dog sled race was cancelled last week because the Pyrenees Mountains have too little snow. More from Reuters.

Just as important, a short-term drop in temperatures does not add up to a climate trend. Just as the stock market can tick up and down during a general upward trend, local temperatures can move up and down during a general upward trend.

The long-term trend in temperatures is upward. The IPCC (see yesterday’s post) reported that global warming is “unequivocal” and “11 of the last 12 years (1995-2006) rank among the warmest years in the instrumental record.” A week of bitter cold in certain parts of the U.S. doesn’t change any of this.

Unfortunately, it’s not just skeptical radio hosts who make this mistake. For another look at flawed logic mistaking a short-term variation for a long-term trend, see the Wall Street Journal article I mentioned yesterday. It says: “The models didn’t predict the significant cooling the oceans have undergone since 2003 – which is the opposite of what you’d expect with global warming.” But look at these graphs of air temperatures from NASA (see original data) and ocean temperatures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (see original article).

Air Temperatures

Ocean Temperatures

Every once in a while temperatures do dip for a few years. But those year-to-year variations are not related to a climate trend and cannot be predicted by a climate model. Climate models can be used to predict the longer-term trends in temperatures – which are clearly upward – and the models do this quite well.

The globe is heating up – scientists agree on that. In the meantime, if you’re in the Northeast or Midwest, pile on the sweaters to keep warm, but keep the thermostat low to help the planet.

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  1. Prasad Kasibhatla
    Posted February 6, 2007 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    It is also worth pointing out that the National Climate Data Center of the U.S. Department of Commerce has found that “the past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S., a streak which is unprecedented in the historical record” (see with the 2006 annual average temperature being the highest on record.

  2. qtan
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Beijing’s temperature surged to 16 Celsius on Monday, Feb. 5, 2007, the highest temperature at this time of year for the past 167 years. This could certainly just be a fluctuation of local temperature. But the following evidence should convince us more about its warming trend: Beijing has had 20 “warm winters”– where average December to February temperatures are at least 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than the average– in a row since 1986.

  3. MLeahy
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t heard anything about a correlation to solar activity? Are we sure there is not anything there? I mean, I know there was quite a temperature surge from 1300-1400 A.D. which must have been solar. Correct?

    Editor’s note: We have been carefully monitoring solar output since the late 1970’s. The bottom line: there has not been an appreciable net change in the energy emitted by the sun and it can not explain the warming we have experienced (more on solar activity [PDF]).

  4. Posted January 14, 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    Fine Ideas, but do you have more detailed info on the topic, another blog or links to other websites too.

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