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While enjoying sandals in DC during October or garden salad in January, remaining aware of climate threat

October 19th, 2016 · No Comments

It is mid-October in the Washington, DC, suburbs and like most of the nation — much of the world — we are in a heat wave. Rather than bundling up in sweaters, a more appropriate fashion selection involves shorts and sandals.  It is, to say the least, incredibly pleasant to wander outside in such balmy weather as Halloween decorations start to dominate the neighborhood.  Shadowing enjoyment, however, is the looming reality that this backyard phenomena is a very-close to — literally at — home example of how human-driven climate change is having very real impacts today.  While today is comfortable, the added heat in the system is disrupting flora and fauna cycles and this added heat is far less enjoyable in August than October.

To start the year, we enjoyed a salad directly from the garden

It is 3 January 2016.

DC-area lettuce harvested 3 Jan 2016 (c) A Siegel

DC-area lettuce harvested 3 Jan 2016 (c) A Siegel

Here is the lettuce that I just harvested from my garden — wild lettuce from plants we had dined off of last spring and then in the fall — and for which I will be making a salad dressing shortly.

We enjoyed it even as we recognized the weirdness and how this was a truly locavore example of climate change impacts.

Even my youngest recognizes the weirdness — in pulling shorts out of storage for wearing during this odd October heat, the comment:

it’s fun to have it so warm but its weird …

We enjoy life. We are enjoying the ‘nice’ weather even as we recognize the ominous implications behind this ‘nice weather’.

Let us be clear. The climate is warming and humanity is driving this warmth. 2016 is turning out to be hotter than 2015. 2015 was hotter than 2014 … The 2010s are looking to be hotter than the 2000s. The 2000s were hotter than the 1990s. The 1990s were hotter than the 1980s … And, in another critical signal, each decade is seeing more record high temperatures and fewer record low temperatures (when, in a ‘normal’ climate regime, these should roughly average out). Despite Jim Inhofe’s snow-ball packing skills, human-driven climate change is a reality and is a menace for human civilization.

Regretfully, all too many have a hard time seeing past their backyard and beyond the closest temporal events. I remember, awhile ago, the wife of one of my best friends stating during a warm weather period in January: “If this is climate change, give me more because I don’t like the cold.” Hmmm … perhaps that ‘cold’ is part of the climate that fostered the world surrounding her (the animals, plants, agriculture, …) and enabled the civilization she and her children live in. Simply thinking about that comment, the blind opacity to the global linkages and implications of that weather she was celebrating, sends chills down my spine.

Jason Samenow, a Washington Post ‘Capital Weather Gang” editor with “ten 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government”, published something today eerily reminiscent of that woman’s comment. Why in the world are people complaining about this warmth? It’s glorious outside begins.

December is less than six weeks away and the Washington region is basking in four straight days of 80-degree warmth. This weather is simply fantastic and we celebrate it, without apology.

Rather than seeking to tackle the conundrum between the very understandable embrace of ‘great’ weather with the substantive knowledge of climate change science and risks that one should have gained in ‘ten years as a climate change analyst’, Samenow revels in the enjoyment of the warm weather and simply brushes aside, in a dismissive manner, the climate change linkage.

Some of the environmentally-concerned refuse to enjoy this weather worried it is a sign of global warming. But such “Indian summer” weather is a normal aspect of the antic climate. Many Octobers we have such lovely spells of 80-degree warmth. Yes, global warming may be adding a degree or two to our high temperatures, so it’s 84 instead of 82, but this isn’t a reason not to embrace it.

Not very hard for someone to read this as ‘those whiny environmentalists, it is only a degree or two and that is no big deal …’ And, the the “climate” is always “antic”. So what if we warm the globe a bit? Does it really matter?

First, of course it matters. We are already experiencing damages (including in the United States) from rising seas, from worsened storm surges, disrupted weather patterns (just how many 500 or 1000 year storms have you heard about), etc, etc, etc … And, that is with roughly 1 degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming.

Second, such dismissive writing from ‘expert’ journalists helps to undermine the development of reasoned consensus for action.  Yes, as a long-time DC native, I have always enjoyed Indian summers — all too often too brief — periods of warm interludes in the fall season.  They, however, have trended toward later and hotter through my life — with that later/hotter trend accelerating.  Samenow is a trained meteorologist and experienced ‘climate change analyst’, he owes it to his readers to provide a substantive and meaningful context.

Third, while Samenow writes ‘adding a degree or two to our high temperatures’ in this article, in an article later in the day about record-breaking temperatures in the region he notes:
Temperatures in the D.C. region Wednesday afternoon hit levels typical of the height of summer — surging to 86 or 87 degrees.

For a second straight day, the temperature at both Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports set record highs.

Through 3 p.m., Dulles had climbed to 86 degrees, easily besting the record of 83 from 1991 and 1963.

Baltimore had shot up to 87, shattering the record of 82 from 1947 and 1908.

Looking at the regional map associated with that article, near solid red for record high temperatures.

And, this heat is far from isolated to Washington, DC.  Look at those records above.  And, as Samenow writes,

“Several locations in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and in southwest Kansas registered highs around 100 degrees. In some cases, these temperatures were the hottest ever recorded in October and for so late in the season.”

In this second article, Samenow provides absolutely no discussion how these “hottest ever recorded” temperatures might relate to climate change.

Samenow, at times, has done serious articles and commentaries on climate change and climate communication. A strong example of this came in the bluntly titled Meteorologists shouldn’t just ‘stick to the weather,’ they should openly discuss climate change

Every meteorologist who is in the business of communicating weather information has an obligation to explain why the weather does what it does, and climate change is playing an ever-increasing role in this story. Ignoring climate change in weather reporting is anti-scientific by omission, and it’s irresponsible.

Despite that strong statement, in that strong article, written amid a record hot DC summer, amid the hottest July in global weather reporting, Samenow’s reporting doesn’t seem to live up to his own standard of ‘responsible communication of weather information’.

Samenow’s perspective on climate reporting seems well framed in his interview with his high school alma mata when asked about the how the meteorologist’s role has changed in the face of climate change:

Because the issue of climate change is so politicized, some weather communicators steer clear of the topic entirely. Others are starting to see climate change manifest itself in daily weather with increasing frequency of warm/hot days, precipitation extremes and other impacts. And so they view it as their responsibility to communicate the science. On the Capital Weather Gang blog, we regularly write about climate change science and do our best to accurately and fairly convey the latest, peer-reviewed scientific findings and the range of credible viewpoints.

Climate change is, for Samenow, to be separate from that ‘daily weather’ reporting and focused on discussions of “climate change science”.  And, we see this all too often within the Capital Weather Gang work: climate change is ignored or casually dismissed all too frequently, even amid significant weather events with clear climate change signals (like today’s heat), with occasional thoughtful and substantive discussions of climate change set aside from direct linkages of ‘weather’.

While weather isn’t climate and climate isn’t weather, news reporting should not divorce the two.

From a December discussion sparked by salad thriving in the garden, #Climate changed my (and your) backyard,

It is late December, Washington, DC, suburbs

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

and things are out-of-whack. Roses and azaleas blooming in the garden with cut flowers adorning the dining room table and enough lettuce coming up that we’re looking toward fresh salad from the garden for a New Year’s brunch.

Let me tell you: this is not normal.  Actually, correction: this was not normal and sadly is likely a sign of ‘the new normal’: weird weather, with new extremes of all types, amid a warming global ecosystem.


Back to the backyard …

Daily life is a form of cognitive dissonance.

Physically, these warm temperatures are a joy. Bike riding and walking with t-shirts, having windows open for fresh air, not having to be bundled up with heavy winter clothing.

Yet … this is beyond bizarre, the changed backyard is ominous to the extent of ‘climate changed’ rather than ‘the climate will change’.  In the past ‘normal’, roses from the garden aren’t supplying cut flowers for the household at the end of the year.  Wild lettuce never provided a New Year’s day salad.

If ‘new normal’ were only about enjoying standing outside talking to neighbors and eating fresh food from the garden, then there’d be reason to embrace it … sadly, that is not the dominant outcome.

From disrupted wildlife and agriculture, to more severe storms, to rising seas, to … climate change threatens us.

And, even while tomorrow’s impacts will be greater than today’s, as my (and your) changed backyard shows, these threats are truly upon us now …






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Tags: Washington Post