One thing that is a constant is change. Certainly the weather in North Central Wisconsin typically fits that motto, although you could make a case for the relatively stagnant weather pattern through the first three weeks of this month. Nevertheless, the day to day fluctuations in temperatures and sky conditions will continue. So too will that of the climate in Wisconsin and around the world in the decades and centuries ahead.
The big buzz words in meteorological circles for the past several years have been global warming and climate change. I still remember doing a scientific report way back in 6th grade about the hole in the ozone layer and how it would impact global weather conditions. Granted at that point in my educational career, the report was based off of reports in Time and Newsweek Magazine, along with what was on hand in library science books from the early 90s. Yes, this was before the widespread availability of the internet. I think it is safe to say this topic will remain one of interest...of course as each year goes by, we will have more reliable past weather data on hand to apply to those climate prediction models.
A recent study done by researchers at UW-Madison points to the potential increase in the next 50 years of temperatures in the Badger State by 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. As a point of reference, over the past 60 years in the state, the average temperature has increased by a mere 1.3 degrees. In addition to this rather robust increase in temperatures by 2060, the researchers note that more precipitation could be in the works on average. This would probably sound wonderful considering the seamlessly constant drought that at least a portion of the state has been under over the past several years. But factor in the warmer weather, and what would fall as snow could end up instead being a wintry mix of precip and the severe storms in the summer would be more common. Again, this year certainly goes down as an outlier with below average severe weather statewide (no tornadoes to speak of in North Central Wisconsin), while snowfall last winter was locally near normal for the season, but has been setting records in southern and eastern Wisconsin the past 2 years.
Although a majority of scientists believe that global temperatures have been warming and are projected to continue to do so, it also has been noted that global temperatures have leveled out since the start of this decade. Interestingly enough, a study by by professors at UW-Milwaukee back in March said that temperatures globally have steadied, or may be cooling. Check out the links to the two articles about this topic here:
March 2009 UW-Milwaukee Study
September 2009 UW-Madison Study
Here's my view on this matter. First off, there will always be climate change, whether it is getting warmer, colder, or only fluctuating a degree or two either way. Reliable data that we have available only goes back at best about 75 to 100 years, and these computer models that are being used are doing a lot of assuming on information that pre-dates 1900. You have to keep in mind, bad data in equals bad data out (garbage in=garbage out). So using hindsight temperature and precipitation assumptions that are just estimates are going to in the end give you broad estimates on the future. Having a 4 to 9 degree increase in average temperature 60 years from now is extreme. We're not talking about a couple days of temperatures that much hotter, you're factoring in a year to year basis of temperatures that would be that much higher. Having that much of an increase just doesn't hold water in my opinion.
On a side note, should we strive to be more environmentally friendly? Absolutely. Decreasing pollution, using renewable energy to power things in our daily life and recycling are important and should certainly continue! But I have to believe that humans only play a small part in how the climate of earth will change. Don't forget, based on climatological history there have been episodes of warming and ice ages on this planet over the past thousands of years. Will that type of extreme take place again? I don't know. But I would at least like to take these predictions on temperature change and look back on them in 30, 40 or 50 years. Not withstanding the man made impacts on the environment, whether for better or worse, let's see if this type of global temperature swing really comes to fruition.
In the meantime, I'll spend each day worried about the weather in the next few days or weeks and let my scientific peers continue to refine their computer model data. It's safe to say, there will be more studies and predictions issued in regard to climate change for many years to come.
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