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Coming In from Cold on Climate Change

This Week in Green – Dec. 27, 2010

By Geoff Grant – Zoe Environmental Editor

Snow in New York City (Credit – Ruttle)

With winter storms in the U.S. making headlines all weekend, global warming seems like a foreign concept.

The Northeast was pummeled by snow Sunday and today, wreaking havoc for those traveling by car or plane over the holidays.

Meanwhile, the Southeast enjoyed a rare white Christmas in many cities, including Columbia, S.C., and Atlanta, both of which had significant snowfall on Dec. 25 for the first time in 120 years.

Europe was inundated with snowstorms in the week before the holidays, snarling travel there as well.

So, did global warming take a holiday? Is the science confused?

Hardly. As Judah Cohen explained in an op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times, it’s so darned cold out precisely because of global warming. Cohen is the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER).

Scientists are only starting to understand and explain the ways global warming impacts the weather, but they do know the effects don’t always feel warm. It’s a big reason many use the phrase climate change to describe the phenomenon instead of global warming, which can feel a bit off in a blizzard.

Cohen said the likely culprit for the extreme winter conditions in the U.S. and Europe this year and last is a combination of snow cover in Siberia, the jetstream, topography and the atmosphere.

As scientists detail those findings, the hope here is that they can educate the public enough on the causes and effects of global warming, so we aren’t all left in the cold.