How cold, nasty, and intolerable was the winter of 2014?
I woke up this morning to a dusting of whiteness out my window: there was snow in
Toronto. I could hear the moans of Torontonians waking up and looking out their window only to realize it was again cold, and again, snow would ruin their morning TTC ride. This morning reminded me of April 1 1997. As a kid in Boston I woke up to almost 30 inches of snow on the ground – more in that one night than the rest of that winter. I didn’t have a morning commute. Schools were closed. I liked the snow then. This year though, no one is happy to see the snow again. For many North Americans, this winter has felt cold, long, and intolerable.
These feelings about the weather matter. Research shows that the way we perceive weather affects the way we respond to problems like climate change. Simply put, the perception that local weather is at odds with claims regarding the climate (weather is cold but climate is warming), affects the strength of belief or likelihood to act on climate issues.
The purpose of this post is twofold: 1) to convince you that, from a certain perspective, this winter wasn’t the long, cold, and intolerable one you might have experienced (OK, maybe if you live in Wisconsin), and 2) to buy myself time to put together a proper post on the pop-explanation for this winter, the polar vortex.
Where was it bad? Middle-to-Eastern US and Canada
If you lived in the middle of the US or Canada, you felt cold this winter.
For example, Madison Wisconsin (article here) had their 11th coldest winder on record, with average temp of 13 degrees F, and (at least) 81 consecutive days of at least 1 inch of snow on the ground (the 4th longest in recorded history). The US as a whole had its 34th coldest winter (from 119 recorded winters). Toronto had a record 101 consecutive days with 1 cm of snow on the ground, the temperature average was the coldest in 20 years, 3rd coldest in 50 years, and 35 extreme temperature warnings were issued. Great lake ice coverage was at a near all time high.
But don’t think that because you were cold, that it was a cold winter.
This winter, from a global perspective, was warm (according to NOAA global analysis). Europe was warm. Denmark reported its fifth warmest winter since records began in 1874, Germany its fourth warmest, and Austria its second.
Globally, this winter’s (Dec-Feb) land records indicated it was the 10th warmest (2007 was the warmest) and the 126th coolest (1893 was the coldest). In the northern hemisphere, this winter was the 11th warmest and 125th coolest.
Combined land and ocean surface temps for this winter was the eighth highest on record, and .57 degrees C above the 20th century average. What about sea ice? Arctic sea ice extent – the loss of which is thought to affect climate – was at its fifth lowest.
It is easy to forget that everywhere is not like where we are. Please keep in mind that the weather where you live is not an indicator of the global state of the atmosphere.