homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

NYC’s weather weirdness

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2012

In 2006, New York magazine published a piece by Clive Thompson about what climate change is doing to New York’s weather.

Nobody really knows what’ll happen more than a week in advance, of course. But if we assemble these major climatic trends, a rough snapshot of New York’s future begins to emerge.

First off, El Nino will keep our winters reasonably mild and reduce hurricanes in the immediate future, possibly until as late as 2008, because El Ninos usually last for only one or two years.

Meanwhile, the AMO will remain in its warm phase, charging up storms and hurricanes off our shores, for much longer, probably another twenty years. So while El Nino may be driving a temporary reprieve in our nasty weather, once it dissipates, the long-term trend is back to tumultuous hurricane seasons.

The final ingredient in the mix is global warming. In the past century, the average temperature in New York has risen by two degrees, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, the computer models reviewed in the “Metropolitan East Coast Climate Assessment” — a 50-year prediction of New York’s changing climate, developed by nasa and Columbia University — suggest that the city will continue to heat up by as much as one degree by 2010, two degrees by 2020, and accelerate on a gentle curve until we reach as much as nine degrees warmer than now in 2100. It doesn’t particularly matter whether you believe the warming is man-made or a natural cycle (most, but not all, climatologists believe the former). The point is, pumping that much extra energy into the system is bound to have some effect.

The impact on our daily life, though, is the big question. A few degrees of warming won’t turn New York into a Miami-class shirtsleeves town. The effect will be more subtle: Climate scientists suspect that a warmer climate will produce more weather volatility. It’s not that we’ll have more rain overall, more snow overall, or more storms overall. But each event will be more intense than before.

“We’re more likely to get hotter heat waves,” says Mark Cane, a climatologist at Columbia University. “And increased storminess” adds Cullen. Both effects are due to the additional energy that global warming pumps into the “hydrological cycle,” the water and energy that circulates through the atmosphere — and it’s water that creates weather.

As they say, “nailed it”. The term “global warming” continues to be a misleading when it comes to the effect of the Earth’s increasing temperature on our weather; as Thompson notes, it’s not that it’s just gonna get a little hotter in the summer or a little less snowy in the winter, the weather’s gonna get weirder. Which is a problem…it’s difficult for society to measure and talk about “weird”.

We Work Remotely