Op-ed: Did global warming cause Alaska heat wave?

asdf Image Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC
A NASA satellite captured this clear-sky image of Alaska on June 17, as parts of the state saw record-high temperatures. Photo courtesy NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC. Click here to learn more about this image at the NASA Earth Observatory home page.

Maybe not, but it’s part of a pattern of more frequent climate extremes

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A recent heat wave in Alaska has triggered yet another pointless debate about whether the record-breaking temperatures at some weather stations is a sign of global warming.

One of the best examples of how many journalists are missing the point came in the usually sharp-edged Alaska Dispatch in a story titled Why Alaska’s heat wave is a bad example of global warming.

After reciting a list of temperature statistics, downplaying wildfires and making critiques of other blog posts, the author ends with this assertion: “Moderation, it would seem, is the key to accurately representing data and making an informed decision on climate change.”

It’s not even remotely clear what is meant by moderation, but the reference to data is even more puzzling, considering that every credible temperature record from the past 50 years shows an inexorable rise in global temperatures — that’s why it’s called GLOBAL warming, regardless of what year-to-year, or decade-to-decade cycles may have been observed in Alaska.

What’s missing is some context. Yes, Alaska may be a big place, but in the end, it’s only a small part of the world. And the world, it’s clear, is seeing more frequent weather extremes.

Alaska’s record-breaking June heat came of the heels of an exceptionally cool spring, reflecting a pattern very similar to Colorado’s recent weather. The Rocky Mountain state also saw extended winter-like conditions, with heavy mountain snowfall continuing into May, then a sudden shift to record highs, with the earliest-ever 100-degree reading in Denver, followed shortly by the state’s most destructive wildfire on record.

Just in the past few weeks, parts of Europe saw historic high water, and, while it may be on the opposite side of the planet, a good climate reporter shouldn’t forget about Australia’s record-breaking heat wave just a few months ago.

Taken in isolation, none of these things is a global warming smoking gun, but seen in the context of global changes, they are part of a pattern, probably linked to documented changes in the velocity of the circumpolar vortex and the amplitude of passing high pressure ridges and low pressure troughs.

There’s plenty of solid research out there starting to show how greenhouse gas emissions are changing Earth’s climate. Ignoring that science just to make a point (or avoid making a point) probably isn’t the best way to report on climate change.


4 thoughts on “Op-ed: Did global warming cause Alaska heat wave?

  1. Good post, thanks. Never in my 40 years in Alaska have I seen so many days of 80 and 90 degree weather. I’m not complaining, that’s for sure, but it’s highly unusual.

  2. Use “Moderation” in interpreting scientific data? Egad – that is that is about as absurd and intellectually twisted as could be. Here is an analogy. A year ago, as the doctor was giving me an annual physical, he found that the EKG showed heart fibrillation, my blood pressure was 184 over something, and my pulse was 28. He said ”Sit in this wheelchair – we are going directly to ER; you should be dead!” and the next day I had a Pacemaker and a bunch of medicines. He could have said “Now, I will view your data with moderation. First, you are still alive. Second, the pulse could be lower and the blood pressure could be higher. Therefore, let’s not take an extreme or severe rating of your health, but in moderating your condition compared to what it could be, I advise you to come back in a year and we will see how you are.” I would not have been back in another year – I would have been pushing up daisies, and not moderately.

    Bert Melcher
    Albert G. Melcher Captain Civil Engineer Corps USNR Retired
    Transportation and Energy Policy Consultant
    Aurora CO a.melcher@comcast.net
    “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.” – – Dietrich Bonhoffer, Protestant theologian hanged by Nazis in 1945

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s