This is a heat wave, at least in the long term

NEW YORK – People here and across the Northeast are still digging out from the monster blizzard that ravaged much of the region, shutting down airports, subways, schools and virtually everything else. As of now, there is snow on the ground in every single state in the country, except Florida. About 70 percent of all the land in the U.S. is covered, reports say. And it’s cold. Really cold.

But 2010 is tied with 2005 for the hottest year ever, or at least since 1880, when records were first kept – further evidence of what the overwhelming majority of scientists and rational people already know: global warming is real.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party, especially its Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin / tea party section, either doesn’t believe or refuses to believe the truth of climate change. The new House went so far as to abolish the only committee in Congress that specifically deals with climate change.

Perhaps, some analysts say, it’s better that the climate change committee was abolished. Some Republican representatives had openly talked about the idea of using the committee to “investigate” whether global warming was even real. Others expect that the newly-Republican committees in the House will turn to “oversight,” code for doing what they can to stymie the Obama administration, including its environmental efforts.

The administration, for example, used its executive powers to pass stricter greenhouse gas emissions guidelines via the Environmental Protection Agency, in effect going around the obstructionist Senate. Now Republican House committee members will likely use their authority in these oversight committees to at the very least slow down such moves.

But while Republicans continue to deny fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its annual report, which, aside from noting that 2010 is one of the hottest years yet, contained other alarming statistics.

According to the NOAA, 2010 is the 34th consecutive year in which global temperatures have been higher than the 20th century average. In the lower 48 states, 2010 was the 14th consecutive year with above average temperatures.

And while much of the nation is cold now, the year that just wrapped up was a year of weather extremes. “Twelve states, mainly in the Southeast, but extending northward into New England, experienced a record warm June-August,” says the report, which went on to say that a number of U.S. cities reached record temperatures.

With 1,302 tornadoes recorded, 2010 became one of the ten “busiest” years since records on tornadic activity were first kept in 1950. For the first time ever, Minnesota had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in the number of twisters.

As far as hurricanes go, the year tied for the third highest number of Pacific, and second highest number of Atlantic, storms.

Record cold and record heat, mixed with the seemingly bizarre nature of the weather pattern are often confusing to the laymen. Don’t record cold temperatures disprove global warming?

Glenn Beck and his ilk, as well as Congressional representatives such as Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minn., and other Republicans, simply add to the confusion, suggesting, based on the assertion of a few crackpot “skeptics,” usually funded by energy companies, that there is a “controversy” about the veracity of the climate change problem.

But the scientists at the NOAA, a non-partisan federal agency that provides data used around the world, point out that the world’s weather patterns are highly complex, and that determining the temperature of the globe is based on the average of readings from around the planet. Thus, while it’s unusually cold in one area, it may be unusually cold in another. The reason for this is that there are hundreds of variables in the patterns of the weather, which fluctuates daily, as opposed to climate, which only changes over long periods of time.

El Niño is one such factor. “In 2010 there was a dramatic shift in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which influences global temperature and precipitation patterns – when a moderate-to-strong El Niño transitioned to La Niña conditions by July,” said the NOAA report. “At the end of November, La Niña was moderate-to-strong.”

As this publication recently explained, these very weather patterns are influenced by the change in the average temperature. Warming in the Arctic, she notes, can lead to extreme cold recently experienced in the continental United States.

While the Republican fringe and “skeptics” may quibble, climate change is a proven fact, as has been repeatedly shown by studies such as the NOAA’s.

Image: Mark H. Arbinder // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0