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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 03/15/2010

D.C.'s winter was cold, but the globe stayed toasty

By Andrew Freedman

* Sunny & warmer by midweek: CWG's Full Forecast *


Average surface temperature departures from average (in degrees Celsius) during the period from Dec. 2009-Feb. 2010 (includes sea-surface temperature). Credit: NASA GISS.

The data is in on the wild winter of 2009-2010, and you don't need me to tell you that it was unusually cold and snowy in the United States, particularly here in the mid-Atlantic. However, you may be surprised to find out that from a global perspective, the past few months were actually exceptionally warm. In fact, aside from the U.S., as well as parts of Europe and northern Asia, most of the globe experienced warmer-than-normal temperatures this winter (or, in the Southern Hemisphere, this summer).

A brief journey back through the winter shows the stark differences between the cold U.S. and a warm globe.

First, let's start with the domestic stats. According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), for meteorological winter (December through February), nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the lower-48 states experienced below-normal temperatures. At Reagan National Airport it was the 34th coldest February on record.

Looking at Reagan National's daily highs and lows separately tells the story of a month that featured very cold days with nights that were closer to average. Daily highs averaged 6.4 degrees below normal, whereas nighttime lows were only 1.4 degrees colder than normal. The airport recorded a sole 50-degree day during the month, making it the first February since 1934 to have a monthly maximum temperature of just 50 degrees.


Image credit: NOAA NCDC.

Unusual cold repeatedly spilled all the way to the Gulf Coast, with Florida recording its fourth coldest February on record, for example. The lower-48 states were 2.2 degrees below average during the month of February.

The NCDC's February climate overview contains interesting details about the costs of the major East Coast snowstorms last month, with one preliminary analysis coming in at $2 billion. For example, the climate agency cited $18 million in snow removal costs and lost revenue from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority alone, as well as $100 million for each of the 4.5 days that the federal government shut down. (Check out CWG's summary of the Washington area's remarkable snow season).


U.S. snow cover on Feb. 13, following the two major East Coast snowstorms. Credit: NOAA NCDC.

One consequence of the cold winter in the U.S. has been an uptick in public skepticism of the widely held scientific theory that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide from the burning of coal and oil for energy, are causing the climate to warm over the longer term (e.g. multi-decadal time scales).

Yet, if the polls and climate data are accurate, this increase in skepticism is taking place at the same time as the planet as a whole continues to warm. This makes for an odd dichotomy in which public opinion is headed -- at least temporarily -- in the opposite direction of the scientific community.

A broader perspective on this winter can be gained by examining conditions in America's northern neighbor. While storm after storm blitzed the U.S., Canada experienced its warmest and driest winter on record, which forced organizers of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver to resort to innovative ways of manufacturing snow cover.

The average temperature in Canada for the period from December through February was 4.0 degrees Celsius above normal, which beat out the winter of 2005-2006 for the title of warmest winter on record. Canada has not had a cooler-than-normal winter since 1997, and Canadian winters have warmed by 2.5 degrees Celsius since 1948, according to Environment Canada. David Philips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, told the CanWest News Service that "It's like winter was cancelled in this country."


Canadian temperature anomalies (in deg C) during winter of 2009-10. Credit: Environment Canada.

The warm Canadian winter has sparked concerns about summer wildfires, and an even more destructive march by mountain pine beetles through the vast forests of British Columbia and other provinces. Extreme cold is the best weapon that forest managers have against the beetles.

The warmth in Canada extended into much of the Arctic, where sea ice remained far below average in terms of aerial extent. As I detailed in January, the cold in the U.S. and Europe, and warmth in Canada and the Arctic, were caused in large part by an unusual dive in the Arctic Oscillation, or AO. The AO is a short-term climate pattern that influences the weather in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly during the winter.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the extreme negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation this winter resulted in unusual Arctic warmth, since it steered cold air into the U.S. and Europe instead. However, the weather patterns may actually have benefited the sea ice by reducing the amount of ice that was flushed out of the Arctic by ocean currents and winds. This could lead to a less extreme melt season this summer.

Skipping from the Arctic to the Southern Hemisphere, Australia has experienced its warmest nine months on record, and record-high summer temperatures occurred this summer in western Australia especially, according to the Australian Burea of Meteorology. Furthermore, as is evident from the NASA image of global temperature anomalies this winter, most of Africa, South America and South/Southeast Asia had a warmer-than-normal winter.

While this winter's global warmth was likely caused mainly by natural factors like El Niño and the AO, possibly with some sort of an assist from human activities, it's clear that the impression many Americans may have gotten -- that suddenly the world is in a deep freeze -- is far from accurate. So far, the climate is right on track for another unusually warm year.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By Andrew Freedman  | March 15, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, News & Notes, Science  
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Comments

Yes, global warming is still going strong despite our cold, snowy winter. The true measurement of climatic tendencies lies in the measurements involving polar and montane ice [generally receding] and not regional temp/precipitation trends.

Even in a "mild" winter [which is a tendency in an El Nino year] you will have areas that average below normal. We have been lucky to be in such an area.

Parts of Siberia generally averaged below normal, but the classic "cold-pole" regions of Yakutia actually had a "mild" winter by their standards.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | March 15, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Proof positive that God favors the USA and will keep US cool as the rest of the world burns ... USA USA USA. :)

Posted by: upland_bill | March 15, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Freedman,
As much as I appreciate the objective observation that the globe had a relatively warm Dec-Feb 2009-2010, please, please, please use the word "average" in place of "normal." (I've noticed this in the weather stats in the WaPo as well.) It is indeed "normal" to have a variety of temperatures over a series of days, weeks, years, and what have you. The comparison to the "average" temperatures for a specific day, week, season, what have you, is the issue at hand.

It may seem as though I'm picking a nit, but some of us consider this to be important. Please spread the word. Thanks.

Posted by: Viktor3000 | March 15, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I see it was unusually hot in Bolivia again. That is so odd. Can you tell me how that happens? Given the fact that "there has not been any thermometer data for Bolivia in GHCN since 1990".

Seriously, how does that happen? There has not been a temperature station in Bolivia in THE LAST 20 YEARS! But there it is, on your top graphic, indicating it is suffering from above normal temperature.

Un. Frickin. Believable.

I am sooooooooooooooooooooo sick of the exaggeration and complete making up of data and then passing it off as legitimate without even so much as a footnote alerting the reader to the qualifiers and limitations. Absolutely pathetic.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Here is an explanation of how that map ends up with so much red on it.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Try this little experiment yourself.

Go to NASA's website here. Right click on the link and open it in a new tab so that you can come back to these instructions while keeping the map open in another tab.

Don't change a single thing!! Notice that the default "Smoothing radius" is 1,200 km! Click on the button labeled "Make Map".

Take a long look at that map. And notice the note at the top of the page - "Note: Gray areas signify missing data."

If you read that note, and look at the map, you will most likely think to yourself, "Not too much missing data."

Now try this. Click the back arrow for your browser. You should now be back on the default page.

We are only going to change one setting. Click the drop down arrow next to 1200 km under the "Smoothing Radius:" option. Change the 1200 km to "250 km". Now click on the "Make Map" button.

The map looks a little different now, doesn't it? Where did all of that red, orange, and yellow go? A whole bunch more gray, isn't there? The gray represents missing data. Where is the gray on Andrew's graphic above? Notice all of the missing data for Greenland, Canada, South America, and Africa. But you wouldn't know if from looking at Andrew's map, would you?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

@Mr. Q: Interesting that satellite temps (MSU) show the same patterns as the surface maps shown above. See: http://www.remss.com/msu/msu_data_monthly.html (and
click anomalies) for February. Lots of red there, including over Bolivia. Also, Roy Spencer's lower tropospheric satellite data shows the warmest January on record: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/02/04/january-uah-global-temperature-warmest/


Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | March 15, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Oh, pleeze, don't confuse me with stuff like this. I read the Drudge Report! And I know that the only weather that matters is the one near the tip of Sen. Inhofe's nose.

Posted by: minuetto | March 15, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

But there is NO TEMPERATURE STATION in Bolivia. You can't simply point to someone else's dataset as if that somehow justifies your misleading graphic! Your graphic passes itself off as an accurate depiction of land based temperature data. And it is NOT!

Your graphic shows land based temperature data where there is no official temperature station within 100's of miles! And you failed to tell your readers of that tiny little fact.

Now you can try to spin that using some other groups dataset, but it won't change a thing. You used a graphic specifically for maximum effect. You placed that graphic so that people would see it without the need to read your entire column. And you FAILED to alert your readers as to how that graphic is generated and the VAST areas of missing data which were filled by pulling data from up to 750 miles away!

That's like telling me the temperature in Washington DC based upon measurements taken in Jacksonville, Florida!!

Now don't you think that might be interested in that tiny little fact?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q.-

1) You don't need a ground station when you have a satellite in polar orbit.
2) The satellite matches the smoothed data in Bolivia, and looks to have done so for some time. The smoothing algorithm must be pretty good.
3) You talk too much.

Posted by: mason08 | March 15, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I am interested in that fact, Mr. Q. Thank you for offering a counterpoint based on "gotcha!" details.

More to the point, thank you Mr. Freedman for offering a context that explains why our experiential worldview might be at odds with what's actually happening across the planet. These data are troubling.


Posted by: cbvd | March 15, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

mason08,

Then Mr. Freedman should use a graphic generated by the MSU satellite data. Or is that not good enough for his purposes? Is the satellite data good enough to point to when defending the land based graphic, but not good enough to use for the graphic for his column? If that is the case, why is that?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

One can only wonder why Mr. Q. did not himself refer to the MSU satellite data at first. Could it be that it no longer supports his dogmatic position that global warming is a myth, conspiracy, or a function of manipulating data? It no doubt was entertaining to cherry pick specific points on the MSU data record showing global temperatures steady or declining during some short period in the 00’s. It was no doubt great fun to draw a straight line from the 1998 El Nino global warmth to any other later time and gloat over how dramatic the cooling has been.

That was then, this is now. The MSU data (independent of NASA, NOAA, Bolivia, or surface temperature measurements anywhere) leaves no doubt global temperatures have been increasing since the beginning of 2008 to near record warmth this year ( http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/ ). While El Nino likely has a role in the current level of warmth, the warming kicked in before El Nino ramped up.

I, like anyone who deals with reality, is not about to make the case that this winter proves anything about longer term (let’s say last 30 years) climate change, one way or another.

According to Mr. Q, “people, who do not believe in AGW, for whatever reason, do NOT have to prove squat”. He, like so many deniers, clearly care squat about the science, only about self interest based financial and sociological costs, as well as a host of red herring set of consequences whether real, imagined, or products of uninhibited paranoia. Take away the costs and consequences, and interest in the subject would vanish, except for open minded scientists and science literate.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 15, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

cbvd wrote, "Thank you for offering a counterpoint based on "gotcha!" details."

I will assume you were being sarcastic or snarky.

If so, that means you consider pulling temperature data from up to 750 miles away (a distance greater than the distance between Washington, D.C. and Jacksonville, Florida) as a "gotcha". Is that correct?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

SteveT wrote, "According to Mr. Q, “people, who do not believe in AGW, for whatever reason, do NOT have to prove squat”."

That is correct. That is because we do NOT wish to pass legislation based upon our beliefs. Nor do we wish to enter into binding treaties with other countries based upon our beliefs.

If it helps you, try thinking of it this way.

If someone wanted to pass legislation that would affect your life, based upon their belief in the tooth fairy, whose responsibility is it to present proof positive evidence of the tooth fairy? Is it yours? Are you required to prove that the tooth fairy does not exist, so that the believers in the tooth fairy will not pass legislation that affects you?

I think not. What do you think, SteveT?

Now, if the people who believe in the tooth fairy want to pass legislation that would have no effect upon me or my family, then I probably would not care.

Is that simple enough for you to understand, SteveT?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q, unfortunately for your tooth fairy argument, there is not 30+ years of satellite data offering support to that argument. Apples to apples is one thing, apples to oranges is another, but your argument is like comparing apples to the Roman Aqueduct.

Posted by: Brian-CapitalWeatherGang | March 15, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

The satellite data does show a slight warming in the last 30 years. That is true.

It does NOT show that the warming is due to man.

Nor does it show that there will be future warming and not cooling or stagnant temperatures.

Nor does it show that any potential future warming will be catastrophic.

Without a belief that -
* there will be future warming
* the warming will be catastrophic
* man can somehow change the climate of the future to prevent this man made, catastrophic warming

there would be no proposed legislation and International treaties.

You kind of left out a few key facts.

I do not argue that there hasn't been warming. I argue that our knowledge is insufficient to accurately model the climate of 100 years from now. I argue that the current knowledge of our climate is insufficient to accurately determine what has caused the warming since the last little ice age.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the media's constant blurring of the distinction between global warming and catastrophic, man made global warming has taken its toll on you. I will assume that you were not being deliberately disingenuous or misleading.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

If legislation is presented that will rename a Washington, D.C. Post Office to "The Honorable Tooth Fairy Postal Facility", I promise not to say a word. :)

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

OK, I finally went looking on Google, and I'm thinking I need to listen:

"Mr. Q is a male Adélie penguin carrying satellite tracker number 25574. The tracker was deployed on Mr. Q on the 24th of January and removed on the 31st. It was previously deployed on a male penguin called Ethan.

Mr. Q conducted one offshore foraging trip, travelling 263 km from Béchervasie Island to collect his food."

http://www.aad.gov.au/default.asp?casid=5486

Forager like that ... dude's gotta know his climate. Wouldn't hurt to talk to Ethan.

Posted by: Groff | March 15, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

While this has been an unusually warm winter for the Arctic Circle, it's interesting that the polar ice-cap recovery continues (even coming within two standard deviations of the average for the first time in years). I wonder what could be driving that.

Posted by: nlcaldwell | March 15, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

No Bolivian weather data??? Astounding!!!

Has anyone thought to check the World Meteorological Organization's links to all the national meteorological agencies? I can get Cuba's Instituto de Meteorologia temperature and radar data any time, embargo-free, and they also have the North Korean data if memory serves me right. Nations tend to withhold human rights data but weather statistics flow freely thanks to the WMO.

At any rate, Russia Today provides temperature and forecast data for La Paz. I think the NHC also has Bolivian station data on its tropical TAFB chart.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | March 15, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Mr. Q, you've really done it! You've successfully managed to TOTALLY discredit any and all global warming data! And with only a single data point missing. You're absolutely right, it is not only COMPLETELY logical to believe (from some random blog) that Bolivia has NOT A SINGLE weather reporting station! That makes complete sense! Furthermore, from the lack of temperature data from that one (admittedly very small) area on the whole planet, it only makes sense that the whole argument of a warming planet is bunk!

No really, it was a nice try, but next time try to come up with an argument against global warming instead of a straw man.

Posted by: abainenglish | March 15, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

abainenglish wrote, "... You're absolutely right, it is not only COMPLETELY logical to believe (from some random blog) that Bolivia has NOT A SINGLE weather reporting station! That makes complete sense! ..."

No, I did not suggest that anyone take the word of "some random blog". I provided you a link to NASA's own GISS data. I provided very simple instructions that anyone could follow. Follow those simple instructions and you will learn from NASA's own website that they lack an instrument station in Bolivia. But Bolivia is small potatoes! They lack instrument data for all of Greenland and most of Africa! But you wouldn't know that from Andrew's graphic.

I am attempting to provoke skepticism. Not blind trust. I encourage independent thought and independent verification of the data.

Try it. You just might like it.

abainenglish also wrote, "No really, it was a nice try, but next time try to come up with an argument against global warming instead of a straw man."

The argument was specifically against the top graphic. Not global warming. And I provided instructions which you can try at home. If you follow those instructions, then you will (perhaps) understand why that top graphic is so horribly misleading.

But, like I said before, do NOT take my word for it. Try it yourself. It is the same dataset (NASA GISS) that Andrew used for his top graphic. Follow the link I provided. Change the "Smoothing radius:" to 250 km. Watch how much color disappears and how much gray takes its place.

But by all means; do NOT take my word for it. Try it yourself.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 15, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Alright, enough already...Of course the earth is warming and constantly evolving - but here is the catch - there is nothing you, me, all the governments on earth, or even Ms Pelosi can do about it.

Greenland is called Greenland because when the Vikings landed there in 700-800 AD, it was green, warm, and very comfortable. Then something happened somewhere around 1400 AD. It got really cold... so cold that the place turned to ice.

this was all part of a mini- ice age similar to 10,000 year ago although not as intense.

When George Washington was in Valley Forge, this mini-ice age was coming to an end.

Hence the earth is warming since then and it will take another global event to reverse this. It will happen, we just don't know when....

IMO

\/

Zigszag

Posted by: zigszag | March 16, 2010 2:09 AM | Report abuse

BTW - This does not mean that I endorse polluting, driving hummers, etc...Just means I do not think we can make a big difference about the evolution of our mother earth.

Also, Mason08-- taking personal shots in a spirited debate often means that one is on loose ground with his/her factual basis and confidence in their arguments.

\/

-Zigszag

Posted by: zigszag | March 16, 2010 2:32 AM | Report abuse

Also, Mason08-- taking personal shots in a spirited debate often means that one is on loose ground with his/her factual basis and confidence in their arguments.

===

The day I stop calling a spade a spade will be my last. Q does nothing but repeat himself, despite being shown evidence proving his theories wrong. Yet he persists. He does talk too much.


"Fair and balance is for the birds. Be truthful." - Me. Just now.

Posted by: mason08 | March 16, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

mason08 wrote, "Q does nothing but repeat himself, despite being shown evidence proving his theories wrong."

You and I inhabit different realities.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 16, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

You and I inhabit different realities.
===

Yes, but yours is nearly empty but for yourself.

Posted by: mason08 | March 16, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

mason08 wrote, "Yes, but yours is nearly empty but for yourself."

--begin quote--
48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated
--end quote--

Source of the above quote.

--begin quote--
Land use changes the temperature quite a bit in complex ways—everything from cutting down forests or changing agriculture to building up cities and creating air pollution. All of these have big impacts on regional surface temperature, which isn’t always accounted for adequately, in my opinion. The other issue is these big ocean oscillations, like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and particularly, how these influenced temperatures in the latter half of the 20th century. I think there was a big bump at the end of the 20th century, especially starting in the mid-1990s. We got a big bump from going into the warm phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation was warm until about 2002. Now we’re in the cool phase. This is probably why we’ve seen a leveling-off [of global average temperatures] in the past five or so years. My point is that at the end of the 1980s and in the ’90s, both of the ocean oscillations were chiming in together to give some extra warmth.

If you go back to the 1930s and ’40s, you see a similar bump in the temperature records. That was the bump that some of those climate scientists were trying to get rid of [in the temperature data], but it was a real bump, and I think it was associated with these ocean oscillations. That was another period when you had the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation chiming in together. These oscillations and how they influence global temperature haven’t received enough attention, and it’s an important part of how we interpret 20th-century climate records. Rather than trying to airbrush this bump in the 1940s and trying to get rid of the medieval warm period—which these hacked e-mails illustrate—we need to understand them.

They don’t disprove anthropogenic global warming, but we can’t airbrush them away. We need to incorporate them into the overall story. We had two bumps—in the ’90s and also in the ’30s and ’40s—that may have had the same cause. So we may have exaggerated the trend in the later half of the 20th century by not adequately interpreting these bumps from the ocean oscillations. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just saying that’s what it looks like.
--end quote--

Source of the above quote.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 16, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

--begin quote--
And it turns out that a simple analysis of publicly available raw (not adjusted) temperature data from NOAA/NESDIS NOAA/NCDC, combined with high-resolution population density data for those temperature monitoring sites, shows clear evidence of UHI warming contaminating the GHCN data for the United States.
--end quote--

Source of the above quote.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 16, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

--begin quote--
Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section's editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.
--end quote--

Source (Scientific American) of the above quote.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 16, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

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