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Weather or not

25 May 2022 | OP ED Watch

Periodically it is helpful to step back from the details and ask what it’s all about. Thus sometimes we give our heads a bit of a weary shake and say it doesn’t matter how cleverly you explain why and how we are all doomed by relentless warming if in fact the planet is not warming relentlessly. Indeed, should it turn out that the late 20th century was the last part of the rebound from the Little Ice Age, driven partly by an unusually active sun, the scare will evaporate and we at CDN will have to find a new way to participate in public affairs and earn a living. But the fact is that, as Fritz Vahrenholt just reminded us, there has been no warming in the past seven years even as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise, and that the warning trend over the last 20 years has been much weaker than in the previous 20. “Why hasn’t this been reported?” he asks. Why indeed?

We follow Ottawa weather particularly closely because one of us lives here and hopes their flowers and vegetables will do the same. So we invite you to perform similar experiments with your own local conditions, and if you hear that “Today is #Ottawa’s 4th consecutive May day with maximum temperature ≥28°C which puts this run in 5th place for the longest run on record” your instinct should be to say OK, what years are we chasing?

In this case it turns out to be 1978, 1975, 1914 and 1913. Not 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018. And if you scroll further down to the years we just defeated, or whatever we just did, you get 2016, 1977, 1962, 1911, 1903 and 1881 in that order. Assuming of course the measurements are reliable. And noting also that the records only go back to 1872, and were measured at the Central Experimental Farm until 1938 and since then at the airport, of all heat sinks. The point is, there’s no discernable pattern. At least respecting May 14.

As with April 25 being the first day to hit 19°C whereas it typically happens on April 17.

On May 13 we got

“Today is day 2 of the what is forecast to be longest run of 30°C days (before May 15th) in over 100 years. The last time we had ≥ 3 consecutive ≥30°C days before May 15th was May 2nd➜5th, 1913. We haven’t even had 2 days in over 20 years.”

Alas on May 16, the scare story fizzled out despite best efforts to keep it going. “Streak over. After 3 consecutive May days with maximum temperature ≥30°C in #Ottawa, the maximum temperature was only 25.4°C yesterday. We made it to 6th place, only 1 day behind the record.” Set in 1978, trailed by 1975, 1914 and 1913. Plus six other years matched our 4-day streak, including 1881.

As with the related news-like object that on May 11 “With a ~5pm high of 28.4°C, today is #Ottawa’s hottest May 11th in more than 100 years, since 1911.” Oh oh. New Delhi here we come. Except May 11 isn’t a benchmark; it was only interesting on that date because it was that date. And again, the years we didn’t catch were 1895, 1881 (there it is again) and in first place (there it is again) 1911 with a blazing 30.6°C. Whereas the years we beat were, in descending order, 1893, 1888, 2001, 1959, 1903, 1991 and 1912. It’s just weather. As with The Weather Network’s May 16 headline “It never ends: Snowfall forecast for these six provinces this week”. They share the stunning meteorological insight that “As we inch closer to summer, snow becomes more of an unusual occurrence.” But don’t mention climate.

The New York Times begs to differ. Its “Opinion Today” piece for May 18, but really it could have been any day, starts “Most Americans can remember a heat wave that lasted a week or two and the physical shock of moving from the comforting neutrality of air conditioning into an outdoor furnace that leaves you woozy and sticky.” But… here it comes. “Yet even with this direct experience, it’s hard to truly conjure what South Asia has been enduring for more than a month: temperatures hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit — and frequently spiking much higher — week after week, with only brief respites.”

Now we know what you’re thinking. Most Americans never could imagine the weather in South Asia, unless they lived somewhere like Mississippi, because Sri Lanka’s climate is unlike that of Minnesota. But no. And yet yes. “In his first weekly newsletter for Times Opinion, David Wallace-Wells writes that in this warmer world we are reckoning with, South Asia’s heat wave ‘almost qualifies as a non-event if you are tracing the amplitude of climate anomalies.’” Wait a minute. You’re saying it’s not unusually large except in the size and volume of headlines? Sort of. But “With each warmer year, we’re discovering how much climate change will force us to reimagine and prepare for a future that will be very different from the present. Countries around the world are beginning to take up the task of scaling back fossil fuels, but there’s still much that’s uncertain about how that will play out.”

So time may tell. But here’s what it really needs to tell us: Are we experiencing “each warmer year”? Because if not, the whole thing was a mistake for which “Oops” is going to be a rather inadequate exit line.

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