Sunday, September 06, 2015

Weathering Rochester’s winters during Climate Change

Put away your Farmer’s Almanac because predicting our Rochester regional weather based on the past is no longer valid.

Our local leaders and our media who are supposed to be preparing us for winter should be mindful of the big picture: Climate Change. A warming Arctic is affecting our atmospheric jet streams, which is sometimes sending Arctic cold at points (like our Northeast) lower than usual.

Yes, a Warmer Arctic Means Cold Winters Elsewhere. Here's How. Rising Arctic temps are changing the jet stream, drawing cold air further south, showing climate change can drive extreme weather in unexpected ways. Melting sea ice and warmer temperatures in the Arctic are to blame for the brutal cold snaps that have plagued parts of Asia and North America in recent years, according to new research by Korean and European scientists released Monday. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, adds to the growing evidence linking rising Arctic temperatures to changing weather patterns across the globe. It also helps further debunk one of climate deniers' favorite arguments: cold weather proves the world isn't warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (August 31, 2015) Inside Climate News

Our winters won’t necessarily be getting colder; they will be getting wackier.

This makes predicating our winter’s weather problematic. How do we plan properly for our winters now that past winters are a lousy prognosticator for future winters? Based on the last two winters, where the winters were harsh, should we be buying lots of snow removal equipment, stocking up on firewood, setting aside lots of money for staying warm, piling up on salt, and hiring lots of folks for snow removal? Or will this winter shift back to the warmer winters we have been experiencing for the last couple of decades—where Lake Ontario was losing 88% of its ice cover? Will this year’s strong El Niño keep the Great Lakes from freezing over at all?

We could swing from much warmer winters with much more flooding and zigzagging frost days (which devastate local fruit trees), or experience massive lake-effect snows that cripple our transportation systems. And everything in between. Besides El Niño and the Arctic jet streams, there is something else at play: the Northeast has been experiencing a 71% increase in heavy precipitation events since 1958, which means a warm winter could bring more flooding and a cold winter could drop a snowmageddon amount of the white stuff at once.

Already, we are facing a new normal of Climate Change, winter-related dilemmas. When President Obama toured Alaska (which is warming twice as quickly as the lower 48 and unleashing devastating wildfires) this week, he was confronted with the political problems of a quickly warming Arctic.

The Next Not-So-Cold War: As Climate Change Heats Arctic, Nations Scramble for Control and Resources According to investigative journalist James Bamford, the region has become the "crossroads of technical espionage" as the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark battle for control of those resources. Bamford joins us to talk about his recent piece, "Frozen Assets: The Newest Front in Global Espionage is One of the Least Habitable Locales on Earth—the Arctic." (9/1/2015, DemocracyNow!)

Russia has 41 icebreakers (including two that are nuclear) and we have only two freaking ice-crunchers that are about to be mothballed. Do we shell out millions of bucks to buy some brand new icebreakers to help police a warming Arctic, or outsource some Great Lake icebreakers, which might leave the shipping there in peril?

We are in new territory as we adapt to winters on a warming planet.

It’s not a complete crap shoot, though. If we view our changing winters through the lens of Climate Change and develop long-term climate action plans, we can better budget our monies and resources so we can become more resilient. We are already sending firefighters from our region to places that are burning up. We often send emergency crews for disaster relief and power outages elsewhere. We should ramp up our response to wacky winters that are coming by sharing plans, people, and equipment instead of piling up our reserves getting ready for the past. 

Our leaders and our media cannot continue to play dumb and say the science on Climate Change isn’t settled.

Our leaders and our media need to see our winters through a larger lens than year-to-year.

Thinking about the unthinkable: Winter “After two years of harsh winters, people are bracing for another worst-case scenario” (8/30/2015 Daily Messenger).

Our leaders and our media need to bring Climate Change into their projections to adequately inform and prepare the public for dramatically different winters than we have ever experienced. If we continue the way we are going (ignoring Climate Change) we are going to be constantly playing catchup on winter preparations—until we cannot afford it anymore.

During our up-coming elections, consider asking candidates how they will lead on Climate Change.

Time passes. 

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