If rising global temperatures are a hallmark of climate change, but it’s snowing in Florida and Texas, then is climate change a hoax?
Snow falls in Florida, February 12, 2010 [Photo by Mark Wallheiser]
Let’s just get one thing straight right away: no, it’s not. Climate change is very much real, and it’s already happening. However, the surprise snowfall in the southern parts of the United States has tongues—at least those that belong to people who aren’t sold on climate change—wagging. Fortunately, scientists actually have a very simple explanation as to why there could be snow in sunny Florida even though climate change is real.
There’s actually a difference between climate and weather. Climate refers to the general, average weather conditions in an area—for example, the United Kingdom has a cold climate, while Thailand has a tropical climate. Weather, meanwhile, refers to the changes that a particular place might go through in a shorter period of time. For example, the weather wherer you live might be sunny this morning, but it might be rainy later on in the afternoon.
December 10, 2017 snow depth analysis of southern states [Photo by the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center]
So how does weather affect the way we perceive the climate where we live? Because of the week-to-week, day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour changes in the weather, we don’t really feel the more long-term changes that climate has been experiencing. We don’t feel the gradual changes in the climate, because climate isn’t the only thing we experience. We experience the ups and downs of daily weather as well, which makes it harder for us to perceive the more long-term changes in the climate. Thus, just because you don’t personally feel that the climate is changing doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
Florida snowfall on December 9, 2017 [Photo by Tracee Neesee/Pensacola News Journal]
There’s overwhelming evidence that global temperatures are indeed rising. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll perceive the gradual increase and decrease in temperature. You may feel the change in temperature in situations like stepping out of an air conditioned car and into a warm day. A change like this is abrupt, and thus more likely to be perceived or felt. Climate change also doesn’t mean that cold events like snowfall will cease entirely. There will still be cold events, but perhaps not as cold as they were before.
Also, researchers say that climate change isn’t all about temperature. Climate change can also manifest in other things in our environment. For example, if you live near a beach, you may notice that the sea level is rising. Even the increase or decrease in the price of food may be a consequence of climate change, since climate change can impact agriculture.
Snowfall over Texas on December 27, 2015 [Photo via Getty]
However, the biggest lesson that we can perhaps take away from this is that we can’t evaluate the progress of climate change by singular events. “We look at the patterns of change over time,” says Jessica Blunden, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate scientist.
Blunden also adds that there are numerous other ways, both direct and indirect, through which climate change manifests. The manifestations of climate change may not also appear the way we’d expect them to, so it really does help to look at trends over time instead of single events.
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