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This Past Winter: Global Warming, or Natural Cycle?

Every ski shop in town is having sales because the mittens, gloves and scarves were rarely used. The weathermen, usually armed with some winter calamity to report, seemed a bit bored. And fathers were relieved to see only a light brush of snow had grazed their drive ways.

It is no secret that Long Island experienced a strangely snowless winter this year. With about 3 inches as the maximum accumulation from December to March, some breathe a sigh of relief, while others lament the lack of snowdays and sledding. However, most of us are left wondering: Is this mild winter a sign of global warming? If it is, how do we explain the extreme arctic conditions that hit Europe? Is this all part of some crazy weather pattern, or just part of our planet’s natural cycle?

According to the National Climatic Data Center, temperatures across the United States this winter were the fourth warmest on record since 1895. However, they are quick to point out that while winter temperatures across the lower 48 states have been increasing at about 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, this change is not significant enough to cause such visible warming for one season. There are numerous global patterns and trends that can drive weather across a region of the globe from year to year. The presence of La Niña in the Equatorial Pacific, the North Atlantic Oscillation in the North Atlantic, and the Arctic Oscillation across the High Latitudes were all factors that definitely contributed to this past winter’s unusual conditions.

Online blogs and chat forums discussing this winter’s weather also agree with the statement that the mild temperatures do not necessarily point to climate change. One blogger recalled the winters of 1972 and 1974, when snow was scarce and did not cause a single school cancellation (sounds familiar). 1977, however, proved to be much colder. Weather cycles also vary greatly from state to state, city to city. Southern regions sometimes get more snow than their northern counterparts, depending on the path of particular storms and the location of large urban areas, which are usually several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.

Just in case anyone still believes that our mild winter was a direct result of global warming, take a look at Europe’s deep freeze. Some seasonal highlights included the closing of waterways in Turkey due to heavy snow, icy weather in subtropical Greece, and frozen canals in Italy. Unfortunately, unprecedented precipitation and sub-zero temperatures led to several deaths across the hardest-hit areas, including Ukraine, Romania and Poland.

Whether you were thrilled or disappointed by this winter’s mild forecast, don’t expect the same thing next year. The unpredictability of long-range weather patterns means that we will have to keep speculating about what exactly we will be facing in the months ahead. But one thing is pretty obvious: don’t sell your snow blower just yet.



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