why cold weather does not disprove global warming

The temperature here in South Louisiana has been hovering around freezing for the past couple days and has dipped into the upper teens overnight. The last time I remember it being this cold was about this time four years ago, as I remember driving to New Orleans to spend the weekend with a dear friend and watching my car's thermostat never get above 29*.

But anyway, when that cold cold air blew in, so did two other things. Scores of complaints about the cold weather, and jokes about how global warming must not be real. I will remember those complaints when we're entering month four of 90*+ heat, when I am hot, sticky, crabby and my hair is a frizzy mess. (You can always add clothes, but you SURELY can't take away when it's hot as eff outside. That just wouldn't be prudent or professional, am I right?)

So, about that global warming? A few cold snaps do not disprove climate change. The short answer is because weather is not climate. (And I'll preface this by saying I am neither a climatologist nor a meteorologist. Unless you count my second-grade report on cloud types and my fourth or fifth grade science fair project on the science behind temperature changes as expert research. In that case, I might know a little bit. I did make good grades on them. Otherwise, I just have a few handy links as source information so you know I'm not totally making things up.)

Here's why. Some simple grade school science definitions, courtesy of NASA:
Weather: what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time.
Climate: how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time.
So, this awesomely named Polar Vortex is a weather phenomenon, and cold fronts are weather patterns. Temperatures, precipitation, cloud cover and wind are all weather, and all short-term, but the statistics and data are all collected for research. Over the years, all that data is crunched to discover the long-term trends of what's happening in our atmosphere, and the results are known as the climate. For example, recording the daily temperatures for fifty years and then averaging each year's group of temperatures create data to show how the weather has trended to create a region's climate. Some scientists define climate as the average weather for a particular region and time period, usually taken over 30-years. It's really an average pattern of weather for a particular region.

The planet's average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past 100 years, and is projected to rise another two to 11.5°F over the next hundred years.

So, to correlate these crazy winter storms to global warming. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather. The rising of the planet's temperature basically makes everything a bit more unstable… don't you get a little more agitated when you're hot and sweaty? So with the warming trends of the planet, it's causing weather to behave more erratically, leading to higher sea levels, stronger hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes (and other perceived causes of earthquakes from man-made activity is a whole can of worms I don't even delve into), and cold storms. And don't you behave a little more erratically when you're hot and agitated? I surely know I do!

Climate change is also a very natural phenomenon. It has happened for the billions of years our planet has existed and it will continue to happen long after we are gone. But there's scientific evidence supporting the theory that man-made contributions are changing our climate a little faster than it would have if we weren't producing crazy amounts of greenhouse gases. And yes, if you stop using aerosol cans in your daily life, you won't magically solve the global warming crisis. But as that saying goes, every little bit counts. And if everyone did their little bit, then maybe nature could do what it wants on its own time, instead of us speeding up the process.

So, for those people you know (relatives on Facebook, coworkers, many Southerners, etc.) who are all "Oh, it's so cold outside! How about that global warming, huh? What of that?", now you know how to tell them that their clever observation is incorrect. You're welcome!

(Thanks to my friends at Green Philly Blog for sharing some of these links on their Twitter and making my research super easy!)

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