Pope Francis was right to denounce mankind's destruction of the environment through fossil-fuel burning, etc But he didn't mention a gigantic factor in all this -- that the earth has too damn many people. A change in the church's birth-control policy would help reduce global warming. -- Robert Whitcomb
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Last year was the hottest year on record for the planet, but it wasn’t the hottest in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. For Rhode Island, the average temperature in 2014 was 51 degrees, the 43rd highest on record. Massachusetts had an average temperature of 47.7 degrees, 87th warmest since 1895.
New England joined much of the eastern United States as one of the few moderate temperature zones in 2014. The cooler temperatures occurred during all four seasons. Meanwhile, Alaska, Arizona California and Nevada had record warm years.
According to NASA climate expert James Hansen, there is no specific explanation for the regional anomaly. He did note that warming is happening faster at higher altitudes, and decade-by-decade comparisons continue to show rising temperatures for the nation and planet.
Hansen and other scientists have noted that the cooler eastern temperatures and warmer western ones occurred during a lower-temperature year for tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures and a subsequent lower El Niño effect. If the El Niño effect rises slightly this year, it’s expected to push global temperatures higher.
“For global average temperature, the previous record warm year before 2012 was 1998, which ended with a very strong El Niño,” said Michael Rawlins, assistant professor of geosciences and manager of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “The fact that last year surpassed 1998, despite the absence of an El Niño, is important to note. Should an El Niño emerge this winter, 2015 may end up even warmer.”
According to scientists with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the planet has warmed 1.4 degrees since record keeping began in 1880. Most of the warming has occurred during the past three decades.
Because of this warming, more moisture is contained in the atmosphere, according to climatologists. This added moisture intensifies weather events, including snowstorms. Through Feb. 15, Boston had received 90 inches of snow — 87 inches in January and February. The average winter snowfall for Boston is 44 inches.
On Jan. 27, Worcester, had its single snowiest day, with 32 inches. Providence compiled 51 inches of snow between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15. The average snowfall during that period is 17.5 inches. The Jan. 27 blizzard dumped 19 inches of snow across Rhode Island, the third-heaviest storm since the Blizzard of 1978, which dumped 28.5 inches.
In 2014, precipitation was somewhat higher than average across New England. Massachusetts received 49.8 inches of precipitation, which is 102 percent of the normal level.
As the five-year anniversary of the March floods of 2010 approaches, it’s worth noting that the five wettest years in Rhode Island are 1983, 1972, 1979, 2005, and 2008; 1983 was the wettest year with 67.5 inches of precipitation.
The top five warmest summers in Rhode Island were 2010, 1983, 2005, 1944 and 1943; 2010 was the warmest with an average temperature of 74 degrees.
By ROBERT WHITCOMB
Inevitably, some politicians and entertainers (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) are having great fun with the cold and snowy winter in the East and Midwest, saying that this shows that “global warming” is a fraud.
But they are extrapolating from immediate experience and anecdote, not science. I suspect that most of these people know better, but, hey, they’re in show biz.
Actually, January, for instance, which the news media lamented for its cold, snow and ice, has been rather severe in the eastern U.S. because of a huge dip in the jet stream that has brought cold (though not unprecedented cold) to the Upper Midwest and the Northeast while out West, including Alaska, it’s generally been very warm and dry for this time of year. Northeasterners and Midwesterners have endured temperatures 10, 15 or more degrees below normal; Alaska and California have been 10-15 degrees above. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that January was, on a global basis, the fourth-warmest on record.
That the Northeast is so densely populated and that much of the national news media are based in New York and Washington mean that the idea that this winter is particularly bad has particularly strong currency. It recalls E.B. White’s funny 1954 essay “In the Eye of Edna,” in which he noted that the nation lost interest in Hurricane Edna after it moved beyond Boston’s radio and TV stations to wallop White’s comparatively remote Mid-Coast region of Maine.
Then there are such relatively new weather-news outlets as the Weather Channel and Accuweather. These commercial outlets will die if they fail to constantly dramatize such old weather phenomena as “The Polar Vortex” — a low-pressure area in upper latitudes that now is presented almost as a new and lethal threat to civilization. Weather events that would have seemed par for the course of a season a half century ago are now characterized as world-historical events.
Changes in the route of the jet stream from time to time bring cold air deep into the eastern part of the United States while the other side of the country becomes much warmer than usual as the jet stream brings in mild, Pacific air from the southwest. The jet stream’s position, of course, can vary widely but it can sometimes get stuck, meaning warm, “open” winters for us some years and cold ones in others. The general trend, though, is for milder winters. The trouble is that we confuse events in our areas that are part of weather’s natural variability with global climate change.
The confusion of one’s particular circumstances with the wider reality reminds me of the heartening rise in recent years of “evidence-based medicine” as opposed to the more traditional “expert-based medicine.” I am simplifying, but evidence-based medicine relies much less on individual physicians’ experience, values and judgment and much more on cold, hard data derived from rigorous collection and analysis of information from broad populations. As with medicine, so with climate, follow the data.
Anyway, New Englanders have suffered through another week of below-normal weather and are heartily sick of it. That the population is aging and that old people, in particular, find winters wearisome may reinforce the winter fatigue of younger people, too.
In some winters, snow drops and crocuses would be popping out of south-facing slopes about now. It looks as if we’ll have to wait a while for them this year. Still, a gradual change in the mix of morning bird song and that there’s bare ground around the base of trees where there was snow a week or two ago reminds us that the sun is getting stronger by the day: Some birds are coming north again and there’s more solar energy for the trees to absorb. And on one of our recent, and for this winter, rare mild days, I found the worms wiggling enthusiastically in our compost bin, whose contents seem to have been frozen solid a couple of days before. Worms: A reminder of the cycles of death and life.
The Feb. 23 New York Times business section story “Loss Leader on the Half Shell: A national binge on oysters is transforming an industry (and restaurants’ economics)” was heartening for a coastal New Englander. It implied that our estuary-rich region could benefit a lot from much expanded shellfish aquaculture. Unlike, say, casinos, which are a net subtraction from a region’s economy, or local businesses that recycle money that’s already here, aquaculture, because it has exportable physical products and brings people here from far away to buy them in our eateries as local specialties, increases our region’s wealth.
And the business, with its demands for clean water, prods us to keep our coastal environment cleaner.
Robert Whitcomb (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former Providence Journal editorial-page editor, is a Providence-based writer and editor and the overseer of www.newenglanddiary.com. He is also a director of Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com).