Yes this post is about climate change. It’s incredibly unfortunate that this subject has been made part science and part politics, but that’s life in 2018. I’d like to discuss some short- and long-term trends for our area but first, let’s get a few things out of the way.
- It is scientific fact that the Earth is warming and this process seems to be accelerating.
- It is a widely held belief that human activity is at least partly responsible for the changes that have occurred in the last 100 years and especially the last 30 years. The PERCENT of climate change that rests at the feet of human activity? That’s not something that scientists have a great deal of confidence in. But it’s certainly not 100% or 0%.
- Climate change will benefit some populations across the planet. But for some, it’s very bad news.
One way to think about the relationship between climate change and the impact on weather: the “steroid era” in baseball.
Remember back in the mid to late 90s when the home run numbers shot through the roof? Well as it turns out a lot of those guys were hopped up on high doses of steroids. Now, every time Sammy Sosa hit a home run was it because he was on steroids? NO! Some of those home runs would have occurred regardless. But the odds of Sosa hitting a home run in any given at bat were higher because of the steroids. In weather: is every intense hurricane, record-breaking winter storm or devastating wildfire to be blamed on climate change? No way. Many of these events would have occurred anyway. But the odds of extreme weather events is now higher thanks to the changed characteristics of the atmosphere above our heads.
Changes in our local weather in recent years
How has the weather in the Youngstown area changed in recent years. In can be summarized like this: wetter and warmer.
When we look at average temperatures in 30 year chunks, every single month has been warmer during the last 30 years than during the previous 30 years. The changes are, easily, most noticeable in the winter months.
On a shorter time scale, it’s pretty amazing how daily record high temperatures have outpaced record lows over the last several years. This is just 11 years of data but I suspect looking at 20 or even 30 years would yield similar results.
Our region sees more precipitation than it used to. Partly a natural cycle? Yeah probably. But partly because the planet is warming? Yeah probably. Warmer air can “hold” more water vapor. For each degree of warming, the air’s capacity for water vapor goes up by about 7 percent. An atmosphere with more moisture can produce more frequent precipitation events and more frequent intense precipitation events.
The 30-year average annual precipitation in Youngstown was 36.80″ in 1988 and is now 40.17″.
It’s counter-intuitive to think that climate change/global warming means MORE snow. But snow totals have been trending up in recent years. People think of the 70s as a super snowy decade but recent decades have been quite a bit snowier.
When we look at the snowiest winters on record in Youngstown, just look at how many winters since 2000 are in the top 20:
Should you be worried?
I am not going to tell anyone how to feel. That’s entirely up to you. Scientifically, the impacts of climate change are unlikely to be as threatening to lives and property in our region as in some parts of the planet.
Regardless of what you think about climate change, we should all be good stewards of the earth. Will buying a hybrid or recycling more or eating fewer animal products make a dent in this global phenomenon? No. But making different choices can’t hurt either.