New York Times environmental reporter Justin Gillis, whose taste for the apocalyptic is documented at Times Watch, again made the front page, teaming with Joanna Foster for "Weather Runs Hot and Cold, So Scientists Look to the Ice," once again conflating what was formerly known as "weather" into possible harbingers of climate change.
Some people call what has been happening the last few years “weather weirding,” and March is turning out to be a fine example.
As a surreal heat wave was peaking across much of the nation last week, pools and beaches drew crowds, some farmers planted their crops six weeks early, and trees burst into bloom. “The trees said: ‘Aha! Let’s get going!’ ” said Peter Purinton, a maple syrup producer in Vermont. “ ‘Spring is here!’ ”
Now, of course, a cold snap in Northern states has brought some of the lowest temperatures of the season, with damage to tree crops alone likely to be in the millions of dollars.
Lurching from one weather extreme to another seems to have become routine across the Northern Hemisphere. Parts of the United States may be shivering now, but Scotland is setting heat records. Across Europe, people died by the hundreds during a severe cold wave in the first half of February, but a week later revelers in Paris were strolling down the Champs-Élysées in their shirt-sleeves.
At least this time Gillis hedges a little before blaming global warming:
Does science have a clue what is going on?
The short answer appears to be: not quite.
The longer answer is that researchers are developing theories that, should they withstand critical scrutiny, may tie at least some of the erratic weather to global warming. Specifically, suspicion is focused these days on the drastic decline of sea ice in the Arctic, which is believed to be a direct consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.
“The question really is not whether the loss of the sea ice can be affecting the atmospheric circulation on a large scale,” said Jennifer A. Francis, a Rutgers University climate researcher. “The question is, how can it not be, and what are the mechanisms?”
Some aspects of the climate situation are clear from earlier research.
As the planet warms, many scientists say, more energy and water vapor are entering the atmosphere and driving weather systems. “The reason you have a clothes dryer that heats the air is that warm air can evaporate water more easily,” said Thomas C. Peterson, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But, while the link between heat waves and global warming may be clear, the evidence is much thinner regarding some types of weather extremes.
Scientists studying tornadoes are plagued by poor statistics that could be hiding significant trends, but so far, they are not seeing any long-term increase in the most damaging twisters. And researchers studying specific events, like the Russian heat wave of 2010, have often come to conflicting conclusions about whether to blame climate change.
Gillis finally pulled the plug on climate alarmism at the very end:
Martin P. Hoerling, a NOAA researcher who analyzes climate events, agrees with other scientists that global warming is a problem to be taken seriously. But he contends that some researchers are in too much of a rush to attribute specific weather events to human causes. Dr. Hoerling said he had run computer analyses that failed to confirm a widespread effect outside the Arctic from declining sea ice. “What’s happening in the Arctic is mostly staying in the Arctic,” he said.
Dr. Hoerling suspects that future analyses will find the magnitude of this month’s heat wave to have resulted mostly from natural causes, but he conceded, “It’s been a stunning March.”