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Springing Ahead

Steve Scolnik @ 5:00 PM

Temperatures in the Washington DC metro area this afternoon have reached what would be typical average highs for this area in the second week of April (or for Mendocino in August): mid 60s in most locations by mid afternoon and 70 on the southern fringes of the region. Jason has laid out the week ahead in his post below, so I'll move on to longer-range issues.

Matt has already alluded to this in his post last week, but this month is hanging in just ahead of 1949 and just behind 1974 as the ninth warmest January in Washington history. Depending on how much of today's excess gets cancelled tomorrow, there is a chance of moving ahead to eighth place. The chart shows that there is no clear pattern for February temperatures following the warmest Januaries, but 4 of the Februaries have been nearly equal to or even warmer than the preceding month. Four years had only a trace of snow in February. The largest February snow total among the group was less than 8" in 1937. chart from NWS data, photo by Kevin Ambrose

Political Science

Given the unusual warmth we've been seeing, it's natural to ask whether this is related to climate change. One irresponsible ideological answer would be, "Of course, we're all going to die the day after tomorrow (or at least by 9:30 on Sunday on the Weather Channel)!" Another equally irresponsible ideological answer would be, "Of course not, look at 1950, which was over half a century back on the CO2 curve, and besides they're freezing to death in Moscow, and it's been 52 below in Fairbanks!" It's a subtle distinction, but weather refers to what's happening at a particular place on a given day or even during a month or season, but climate refers to much larger geographic and time scales.

Remarkably, both the WaPo (pictured) and the NY Times had lead articles on Page 1 yesterday about the climate change issue. The press has been regrettably coerced by unscrupulous politicians into framing this as a partisan "debate" (hence the Post's unfortunate headline), but the issue does seem to be emerging into the public consciousnes. (Another part of the communication problem, I believe, is a general ignorance, especially among journalists, of the scientific method. Why is it that writers have such difficulty with even the simplest arithmetic, whereas many scientists are perfectly capable of expressing themselves in plain English? You see fine examples of that among my colleagues here at on a daily basis.)

Unfortunately, the most alarming aspect of these and similar articles is not the science or its implications, but what they say about our current ideologically-driven political process. It's bad enough for an allegedly democratic (small "d") government to refuse to heed scientific recommendations in public policy, worse yet to prevent them from being expressed, but it's absolutely criminal to force changes in the science itself in order to conform to a pre-conceived ideology. That's something that would be worthy of the most regressive Stalinist dictatorship.

If you'd like more background on the current issues, check out the latest posting and comments, by scientists doing the research, at the RealClimate blog. The notes and charts from James Hansen's recent presentation on climate change, "Is There Still Time to Avoid 'Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference' with Global Climate?", at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December are available on his web site. If you prefer regurgitated ideological talking points, go to that eminent repository of scientific wisdom, the National Association of Manufacturers.

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