AC Alert for April 3, 2012 The Weather Roller Coaster: What Does It All Mean?

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Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 2:45am

CONTENT: Newsletter

Back to October 29, 2011: With recollection of the brutal 2010-2011 winter still fresh in their minds, residents in the Northeast USA are battered by a highly unusual snow storm: "It was a storm of record consequence, disrupting large swaths of the Northeast in ways large and small: towns were buried in dense snowfalls, closing down streets, schools and even, in some cases, Halloween celebrations. By the time the great snowstorm of October 2011 finally ended early Sunday, more than three million customers would find themselves without power and with the prospect of enduring several more days without it. In many communities, the storm had a far greater impact on daily life than did Tropical Storm Irene." (Source: New York Times)

In the aftermath of this storm, utilities and municipalities updated their storm preparedness plans while stocking up on sand salt and other commodities. Most residents -- already weary from the previous winter -- seemed resigned for another rough winter.

Now fast forward to April, 2012: Despite the early snow fall in October, most of the US mainland wound up having a much warmer than normal winter, with little snow. The impact of this rather bizarre weather can be felt in a wide variety of ways, both good and bad:

"After an unusually warm winter with low snowfall in much of the United States, no part of the country faces a high risk of flooding this spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday in its annual forecast of floods, droughts and spring temperatures. For many areas, the forecast was a relief after last year's historic floods over many weeks on the Mississippi River in the northern and central parts of the country. This year, the Mississippi and many other rivers have only a normal risk of flooding." (Source:

That's the good side of a warm winter. Here's another side, with business implications: "An unusually warm winter is dampening prospects for the eastern American ice wine industry, with fewer frozen grapes being harvested and less of the dessert wine being made, raising prospects for higher prices for consumers. For a product to be sold as ice wine, international regulations require pressing and fermenting the syrupy contents of grapes picked once they've frozen naturally on the vine, which often requires sustained temperatures significantly below the freezing mark. This year, grapes withered on the vines waiting for the temperature to drop. When it finally did, some growers harvested in earnest and others decided it was too late and opted to skip ice wine production altogether this year. Growers reported a 20 percent drop in yield as a result of fruit withering on the vine in the extra month they waited to harvest as well as bird damage, said the wine trade associations representing New York and Ohio." (Source: Reuters)

For better and for worse, our weather does seem to be on a warming trend. Is this the much-debated Global Warming -- or just the usual climate cycles? That’s the magic question. The last three years have seen an enlivened debate of the existence of human-caused climate change challenged by some doubters who feel the changes are just normal cycles. While according to some surveys the majority of the American public apparently still don’t believe in the problems of climate change/ global warming and with world governments unable to agree on a course of action, AC will continue to focus on potentially one of the greatest issues world society faces.

Since the  Global Warming section was begun in April 2008 more than 2500 articles, commentaries and reports have been posted for our readers. Here are some of the latest:

Climate change report: time to start preparing for the worst
(Source: Christian Science Monitor) Preparing communities now to bounce back from droughts, floods, heat waves, and severe storms they currently experience will go a long way to helping them adapt to long-term global warming according to a 582-page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released last week. The report outlines various ways to reduce the risk to people and property from weather extremes.

EPA to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from new power plants
(Source: Seattle Times) The US Environmental Protection Agency is on the verge of issuing the first limits on greenhouse-gas (GhGs) emissions from new power plants. The move could end the construction of new conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.

Heat Waves, Rains Probably Linked to Warming, Scientists Say
(Source: Bloomberg) Heat waves and extreme rainfall in the past decade are probably linked to global warming, according to a study by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. For some types of extreme, notably heat waves but also precipitation extremes, there is now strong evidence linking specific events or an increase in their number to the human influence on climate according to the scientists who wrote in a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Climate Change Acceptance Sinks During Economic Slumps
(Source: Wired Based on their statistical analysis, the authors of this study conclude the economy is the strongest influence on the public’s acceptance of climate science. This conclusion held when the authors analyzed things separately in each US state based on its local unemployment rate and it also applied to European countries.

Tornado Frequency In 2012: Global Warming, Climate Change To Blame?
(Source: International Business Times) The hundreds of fatalities in recent years have some people wondering whether human activities could be behind the weather patterns that lead to destructive tornadoes, more specifically whether global warming leads to an increase in deadly twisters.

Report: Great Lakes winter ice cover has decreased 71 percent since 1973 (Source: Duluth News Tribune) The average amount of ice covering the Great Lakes declined 71% over the past 40 winters, with Lake Superior ice down 79 % according to a report published by the American Meteorological Society.

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.

CATEGORY: Environment