“All the snow has turned to water, Christmas day has come and gone.” The old John Prine/Steve Goodman song’s been rattling in my head all week because the two feet of snow that were on the ground at New Year’s is gone, running through my basement like a righteous mighty stream.
“Think globally, act locally.” All through December, as the snow piled higher, global warming skepticism was freely expressed on driveway aprons as the plow buried us again. Suddenly, it’s all gone, the lilac buds are pushing out and we’re having our second warm January in a row. (If last year is any guide, we’ll still get our share of snow.) Open the newspaper and see professional forecasters warn one warm week (or year or uh, two years) cannot be definitively put down to global warming.
The environmentalists speak the same cautious line. Oh no, don’t want to be accused of scare mongering, so let’s play it safe. That’s the problem with global warming; if we’re going to save ourselves from it, we have to take significant action BEFORE we have rock-solid proof that it’s happening, because by the time we have the proof, it’s too late. So we bring predictions and computer models to the table and Dick Cheney and the high-priced lobbyists for the oil companies claim we’re making things up. In the US Senate, James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, says global warming is a hoax and scam. Who would profit by such a hoax and scam remains unclear.
Well, let’s not play it safe — or risky, either. Let’s not play at all. Let’s look at the record, at least the ones we have on hand, because one year does not a trend make, but many years do.
Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” All weather is local too and the federal government tracks it, although the way the trend’s been going, the Bush administration will likely soon make the weather records classified information.
Here in Burlington, we’ve been keeping daily temperature records for 119 years. When I read in Wednesday’s paper that Tuesday’s temperature (63) had broken the old record by 12 degrees, it occurred to me that we have 365 weather records in every town in America. (Feel free to duplicate this investigation where you live.)
Climate scientists tell us global concentrations of carbon dioxide – and therefore global warming – have accelerated since 1970. If that’s true, then a disproportionate number of daily high temperature records should have been set in those 38 years, as compared to the previous 81.
According to records kept by the National Weather Service, of 366 daily record highs, 157 have been set since 1970. Ninety record lows have occurred in the same period. The hottest days on record for eight of the 12 months have occurred since 1970, too. Five of coldest days for each of the months have been since 1970. An interesting stat, 129 days since 1970 set a record for having the highest minimum temperature.
I don’t know what goes on in Oklahoma, but the records seem to indicate my neighborhood is getting warmer.
My neighborhood also has a large body of water, Lake Champlain. It sometimes freezes over in the winter. It has not yet frozen this year. When it freezes over, the lake is said to have “closed.” Vermonters have been keeping records of the date of lake closure for 192 years, 73 years longer than we’ve been keeping records of daily temperatures.
Those records say Lake Champlain closed every winter from 1851 to 1918 – 67 years running. Back in the day, a person could grow up and grow old and never have seen the lake stay open all winter. The lake stayed open in 1919 and then closed every year until 1932.
In the winters of 1952, ’53 and ’54, the lake stayed open three consecutive years for the first time in recorded history. In the 37 years since 1970, the lake has stayed open 18 times.
As long as we’re talking about numbers and percentages, I should probably note that all this is stupid. I’m sure more than 99 percent of the people reading this don’t need to be convinced that global warming is real and threatening. The whole exercise may be a waste of pixels, unless it convinces you, who are already convinced, that you need to take more action to preserve your neighborhood for yourselves, your kids, your grandkids.
© Mark Floegel, 2008