Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Can You Do With Three Feet of Snow?

Argue climate change, keep shovel ready

As landlords go, ours is a good one. She did raise our rent last year, which raised my level of ungenerous thoughts about her. But she called the other day to ask how we were making out during the series of snowstorms that have blasted D.C. and the rest of the mid-Atlantic. I told her we were fine and our conversation moved on to the statistical odds against having two Top Ten snowstorms hit the area in the same year (a subsequent 10" snow hit the area yesterday--not Top Ten, but big enough to be the largest storm in most Washington winters).

Good weather records for the area (at least regarding depth of snow deposited by storms) go back 100 years or so. So the likelihood of having a Top Ten storm happen in any given year is about 1 in 10. The likelihood of two Top Ten storms in any given year is 1 in 100. Add in a third 10" storm and consider that area weather data goes back more than 100 years, the likelihood of all three storms happening in the same year is probably somewhere around once every 150 to 200 years. Long odds, I think, but nowhere near rare enough to prove anything, least of all climate change, which will abound in very difficult to predict consequences (for the Daily Show's perspective on the difference between weather and climate, go here).

Still, whether or not the recent snows reinforce arguments for or against climate change, they are most certainly weather, which is, once again,something everyone likes to talk about. The thing about heavy snowfall is you don't just get to talk about it, you actually have to shovel it. And, let me note here that I'm going through my 62nd winter on this planet and spent 59 of those winters in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Boulder and Dayton, residing here in D.C., south of the Mason-Dixon line for the last three.

But it is only here in Washington that I have had to shovel snow every day for a week; that's what people do in North Dakota and Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and, I guess, in Buffalo. So, though isolated weather events do not prove climate change , rigorous scientific models that support the argument for global warming also predict increases in severe weather events (see a discussion of climate change and severe weather here). Personally, after moving around an estimated ton of snow in the past week, I'm going to invest in a back up snow shovel; my unsolicited advice to those living in the Deep South, the current bastion of Republicanism and center of the fundamentalist argument with science: Keep a snow shovel handy. The one you use for manure just won't do.

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