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Snow Flakes
Right wing losing what passes for its mind over global warming

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
February 13, 2010

Back in mid-January, we had a snowstorm here in the western mountains. That’s not particularly remarkable–there’s a ski resort five miles from here as the crow flies, and you know they put it there for a reason. The storm dumped 3 ½ feet of snow – a little over a meter – on us, and that’s also unremarkable. We get five foot snowfalls about once every other winter, and I’ve seen storms that dumped 11 feet and 14 feet. Those are nowhere near the record, either. In short, we get a lot of snow here, and we’re used to it. A local joke is that you know the snow is a foot deep on the highway when grandma has to slow down to 60 miles an hour in her pickup truck.

The fourteen footer caused a lot of problems. Our lights went out for three days, the highway was closed for two days, and volunteer “roof parties” went around town shoveling snow off roofs. The weight was so much that the houses were out of true, with the result that people were trapped inside, unable to open their doors and windows. Someone got a picture of the town from the church steeple, showing steep roofs poking up out of the snow, more lumps than anything else, and the photo made the front page of the Bangkok Times, where I’m sure it puzzled a lot of people who had never even seen snow in their lives. We had to have our dogs dig a path to the surface from our front porch.

This little three-and-a-half footer caused even more problems. Barely an hour into the storm, the lights strobed and went out (taking my Windows Vista with it despite surge protection, but I wasn’t going to know about that for a week), and stayed out. Then the phone went down. Then we learned the highway was closed, and the town was cut off. The gas station couldn’t get gas, the bank couldn’t do much in the way of transactions, and the post office couldn’t send or deliver mail. It was the worst mess we had seen, worse than the Big Snow of 1993.

We got together with neighbors and scratched our heads. It was a nothing little storm, really. We didn’t get our power back on until they brought a generator in from outside and set it up at the old mill and got the town going again.

Bobby was the one who put his finger on it. “If this was the type of snow we normally get,” he noted, “we would have gotten seven feet or more.” He was right, of course. The snow that fell with such intensity was barely more than slush, falling in great big silver-dollar sized snowflakes at the incredible rates we sometimes get here. Perfect snowball snow, and as such, it clung to everything, including tree limbs and wiring of all sorts. Hundreds of lines and thousands of trees came down even in the earliest hours of the storm.

Usually, when we get big snow, it’s a fluffy kind of powder. Not something you can build igloos from, but still good for skiing, and not that hard to shovel. The stuff we got this time weighed between 15 and 20 pounds per shovel full. Digging out was pretty arduous.

We need a specific set of conditions for a really large snowstorm, and this year, when those conditions were met, the temperature happened to be just a couple of degrees above normal. There was a reason for that, of course, and the reason was ENSO – El Niño Southern Oscillation. When that comes into play, as it does every three to seven years, we normally get warmer and wetter weather than we usually do, and this time was no exception. At least one climate change model suggests that if the northern hemisphere warms by 4 degrees Fahrenheit, as is almost certain to happen, we’ll end up with a “hyperniño”–a permanent El Niño condition. Assuming no further changes, that would mean massive amounts of rain every winter for us, and very hot dry summers.

Given my choice between seven inches of rain and 3 ½ feet of slush, I’ll take the rain. Water drains DOWN from here and becomes someone else’s problem, and best of all, it doesn’t pull down power lines and trees, and you rarely have to shovel it.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve decided that global warming is a good thing. Having suffered through a snowstorm that caused problems because it was too warm, I was more than a little bemused when the twin snowstorms savaged the eastern seaboard, dumping record amounts of snow. It’s one of those areas that normally gets snow in February, and the fact that they got record amounts simply meant the storms carried more moisture. Now, most people know that there’s a correlation between how warm the air is, and how much moisture it can carry. It’s the reason we call it “relative humidity”–a relative humidity of 70% means that the atmosphere is 70% of saturated, the maximum amount of water it can carry. Relative humidity at freezing is far drier in terms of actual amount of moisture in the air than it is at 90 degrees.

So when right wingers on the web and cable channels and radio started howling that the snowstorms back east proved there was no global warming, I just shake my head in pity for their listeners. I don’t know how many of those listeners are as stupid as those right wing pundits think they are, but they sure can’t be very bright if they listen to them. The reason the storms dumped record amounts of snow was because they were carrying more snow than a normal snowstorm would. And the reason they were doing that was because they were warmer than such storms typically are.

So what Rush and the rest of the yammerheads were telling us was that these snowstorms proved there was no such thing as global warming because they...um...were warmer than normal.

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity. Rush makes tens of millions of dollars a year off of it.

The storms don’t actually say anything definitive about climate change. What has 99+% of climatologists concerned is a long-term trend, not any single weather event.

But those climatologists did say that winter storms would be warmer and more fierce, and that’s something that characterized both our mid-January nuisance here in the western mountains, and the storms that plagued the east last week.

It’s a bit like consulting a almanac, and then looking through a telescope and finding Venus exactly where the almanac said it would be. Rush and the rest of his herd are in the position of claiming that Venus disproves orbital mechanics because it isn’t where it was last week. Like most Canadians, I’m paying close attention to the Olympics, especially since they are in British Columbia. I have kinfolk who were born in Whistler, and they would tell me of the winters they used to get back in the ‘30s. Between late November and mid March, there was a variety of precipitation on the menu, but rain, and even slushy snow, weren’t among the choices. You would get anything from igloo-building snow to blowing and drifting snow dust.

They wouldn’t recognize the Whistler that’s struggling to put on ski races and sledding. Trucking snow in from upslope? AIRLIFTING snow in? In Whistler? Ski runs that are too slushy, sled runs that are too “fast” (caused by days that are too warm)? As you all know, one poor athlete from Georgia died on the luge run yesterday, and while his inexperience was probably the main contributing factor, a lot of the other lugers had complained that the run was too fast to be safe. Rush and the rest aren’t talking about how warm it is at Whistler, and for that matter, when they talk about “record cold-weather events” they carefully refrain from mentioning that the main problem with those “cold-weather events” is that they are warmer than normal. But then, they aren’t there to inform. They are there to deceive.

But even the great propagandists–Lord Haw Haw, Tokyo Rose–knew where to draw the line, and not abuse their listener’s intelligence so thoroughly that either they or their listeners became a joke. A propagandist who steps over that line fails. Take Baghad Bob, who tried telling American soldiers that while they were fighting for the Zionists in Iraq, their wives and girlfriends back home were sleeping with . . . Homer Simpson. Rush and the rest have a job to do, and perhaps it’s in our best interest that they do it so badly. Certainly they don’t have our best interests at heart.

But if you run into anyone who believes Rush when he claims that the blizzards prove there is no global warming, explain to him that the blizzards prove nothing, one way or the other, but the effects of weather that is warmer than usual most certainly do not prove there is no global warming.

Posted: February 19, 2010

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