Strange Snow Patterns Consistent with Climate Change

snobama. CC Flickr photo by jason pier in DC.Freak snowstorms plunged the nation’s capital and the rest of the mid-Atlantic United States into utter chaos in February. The federal government shut down for nearly a week, many schools turned President’s Day into an unexpected 10-day-long “snowcation,” public transportation ground to a screeching halt, and suburban power outages drove some families to burn furniture in their fireplaces to keep warm.

But the most dangerous consequence of Washington getting more than two feet of snow was the chilling effect it had on sound reasoning about global warming.

Don’t get me wrong. I love snow. While my neighbors were snatching every last gallon of milk and loaf of bread from our local grocery store, I was feverishly hunting down a decent sled. In fact, ever since I moved down to Washington, D.C. from Maine, I’ve been longing for a snow-packed winter like this one.

But for all the fun I’ve had cross-country skiing down city sidewalks and pegging strangers in spontaneous snowball fights, the recent extreme weather may prove to be snow-pocalyptic for climate change legislation.

I wasn’t terribly surprised when Fox News played clip after clip of gale-force whiteouts, asking where global warming had gone. It didn’t faze me when Senator Jim DeMint, a conservative South Carolina Republican, tweeted that “it’s going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.’” But I was solidly disappointed when Senator Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and floated his own climate bill last year, was quoted saying that “the blizzards…have made it more difficult to argue that global warming is an imminent danger.”

Granted, Bingaman is no champion of progressive climate politics. He’s pushing nuclear power as “clean” energy even though the industry can’t figure out how to safely dispose of the radioactive waste. He’s also been publicly open to dropping a comprehensive climate bill in favor of energy-only legislation this year. But still, it’s downright irresponsible for policymakers to downplay a truth that they themselves are all too familiar with.

A one-time weather event, no matter how odd it might seem to those of us living through it, is still a one-time event. The fact that it was cold and snowy for six days on the eastern seaboard in February doesn’t refute a trend of rising global temperatures. Especially since Mainers were looking at our record snowfall with envy. And in British Columbia, the Vancouver Organizing Committee had to truck snow in from higher elevations so the Winter Olympics could go on as scheduled.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the World Meteorological Organization, NASA, and the UK’s Met Office, the last decade was the warmest on record — and 2009 came in second place after 2005 as the warmest year in recorded history. Higher temperatures mean more evaporation of ocean water into the atmosphere, more energy in the planet’s climate system, more precipitation (including snow) and more extreme weather events (like Snowmageddon).

So while climate-denying pndits point and laugh at the 10-foot snow banks blocking Baltimore’s sidewalks as evidence that warming is wacko, they’re actually seeing proof that climate change is, indeed, real.

Americans all over the country who have seen weather patterns go from familiar to frenetic have used common sense to evaluate the facts, and have come to the conclusion that it’s now time to take action on climate change. It’s also time for climate champions on Capitol Hill to prove they don’t have snowglobes for brains, and pass a fair and effective bill to fight global warming.

Enjoy the snow — while it lasts.

Janet Redman is co-director of the SEEN project at the Institute for Policy Studies.