Snow in 50 States – What’s going on?

It was big news last week that there was snow in 49 of 50 states.  Today we learn that, no, that’s not actually true.  There is now confirmation of snow in all 50 states at the same time:

Patrick Marsh received photos of snow on the ground in every state in just more than 24 hours, but it took him about 36 hours to realize it.

The Hawaii photos were lost in a deluge of incoming snow shots — which arrived at a rate of about one every two minutes. It took a second query from the photographer before he realized it, he said.

Marsh — a meteorology graduate student at the University of Oklahoma — had received photos from 49 states by 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Hawaii photos arrived about 6 a.m. Saturday, he said.

“I didn’t think I was going to get it, but thanks to some heroic efforts from people on top of Mauna Kea, they actually hiked down some of the north slope a little bit to get the photo because the snow wasn’t in an easily accessible location,” Marsh said.

I have a cousin who lives in Washington DC who claimed on her Facebook page earlier this week that she woke in the middle of the night to discover that a snowplow had completely blocked her front door – no way in or out.  (The police told her to call Homeland Security ???) It took them 5 hours to clear enough snow to get the cars out.

Meanwhile, as you know, the Winter Olympics suffered from heavy rain on one of the opening days… strange weather, indeed.

So what’s going on?  Could it be that global warming is really over? Or (as some of my friends would have it) maybe it never really was?

I don’t usually do much with climate change or global warming on this blog – there are plenty of other topics to keep us occupied, and this one tends to generate more heat than anything else (pun completely intended).

However, with snow in 50 states, it seems like a couple of comments are in order:

1.  Snow does not mean cold.

Those of us who live in the snow-belt know that often an incoming snowstorm is preceded by a noticeable rise in temperature.  It generally doesn’t snow much when the thermometer is below zero, and that’s partly because storms bring energy, even in winter, and that energy is often in the form of heat.

In fact, recent numbers from NOAA (The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) point to January 2010 as the fourth warmest ever recorded.  So, in spite of the tendency to say, “Where’s global warming when we need it?”, the presence or absence of snow is not evidence that global warming has gone away.  It could be the opposite.

2. Weather is not climate.

If there is one thing climate change theory is very clear on it is that even in a warming world we will still have cold weather.  In fact, one of the predictions is that there will be more extreme weather of every kind.  This has been happening not only this winter but in every season around the world.  Longer droughts punctuated by extreme precipitation events in Australia, Africa, India, China – and here.

Recent climate studies are predicting that under every warming scenario we will still have record cold and record warm temperatures.  The tendency will be toward more and more record highs and fewer record lows – but the record lows will still occur. [Map shows highs vs lows in the US from the 1950s to the present by decade.]

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This is not the place for a full blown explanation of climate change theory and I am certainly not the person you want to look to for that.  However, I would like to take the opportunity here to introduce you to someone you might find very helpful in this business:  Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is the author, with her pastor husband, of A Climate For Change, written to the evangelical community.  Her book is well worth reading – one of the best I’ve found – but there’s a lot of stuff on her website as well including some very useful graphics.

As Katharine put it recently (rough quote), “Look, no one wants climate change to be explained away more than the climate scientists do.  But we’ve tested every other possible explanation, and nothing else works.  We human beings are doing this – and we have to stop.”

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