by Steve Reynolds. Director of Communications & Membership, Great Swamp Watershed Association
We don't expect climate change to make things warmer as if we're going up an escalator. It's much more like you're going on a hiking trail to the top of a peak, but that path has ups and downs as you try and get there. Don't lose sight of the long-term picture.
Snowmageddon blanketed our state in white. In 2011, flooding from Hurricane Irene washed out roads and homes statewide, and an unusual late-October snowstorm pulled down trees and wreaked havoc with our power infrastructure. In these early months of 2012, we have seen our warmest March ever and our fourth warmest winter on record. As I write this piece, wildfires touched off by unusually dry conditions rage in the Pine Barrens, in the Meadowlands, and elsewhere. What exactly is going on with all this bizarre weather?
That is one of the questions the Great Swamp Watershed Association asked guest speaker Professor Anthony Broccoli, director of the Rutgers Center for Environmental Prediction, in advance of his visit to the organization's headquarters in Morristown on April 10, 2012. When he arrived to give his presentation as part of GSWA's popular Breakfast Briefing speaker series, he helped us better understand the issue by re-imagining our question.
Setting a more scientific tone, he asked our audience of 28 people, "What types of extreme weather may be plausibly associated with climate change and which may not?" The answer was much more complicated than any of us could have imagined.
Among all of the different manifestations of weather he proceeded to describe--temperature and precipitation extremes, heat and drought, tornadoes and thunderstorm, hurricanes and heavy rains, and snowstorms--the associations varied widely. For events like extreme heat and drought, the links to global climate change were quite strong. For events like hurricanes and freak snowstorms, the links were harder to distinguish.
Why was it so hard to come up with clearly definitive answers? The reasons are manifold. For intance, where tornadoes are concerned, a relative lack of observational data complicates the establishment of trends. And, in the case of snowstorms, the alignment of conditions needed to produce a significant event is much more unpredictable.
GSWA recorded Professor Broccoli's presentation and posted on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/GreatSwampWatershed. We invite you to watch the video and draw your own conclusions about our recent spate of extreme weather and its relationship to global climate change.
Viewers will want to make special note of all the examples of New Jersey weather phenomena Professor Broccoli uses throughout his talk. The richness of this state-specific content--the weather observations, photos, and more--will pique the interest of any New Jerseyian.
The video is embedded below. As you watch, please turn up the volume. Audio quality is complicated by our presentation space.
If you would like to download the slideshow Professor Broccoli presented, please click here or visit http://www.greatswamp.org/PDFs/NJClimateChangePresABroccoli04102012[Flat].pdf. Slides are in PDF format.