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It’s Cold. It’s Hot. Weathering Heights

Weekly roundup of news, trends and issues affecting our environment and our planet’s future – Jan. 17, 2011

By Geoff Grant – Zoe Environmental Editor

It used to be we talked of the weather only as conversation filler. That clearly isn’t the case anymore as the weather and its impact across the globe promises to be a continuing story.

For instance, take the snow — please– in the United States.

In 49 of the 50 states, snow was on the ground last week, with Florida being the lone exception (if you guessed Hawaii, snow usually falls at its peaks). The National Weather Service reported that 71 percent of the U.S. was actually covered by snow.

That kind of snowfall is atypical for this time of year, but it marks the second straight year it has snowed in at least 49 states. Prior to 2009, that had not happened in more than 30 years.

In scientific terms, there’s nothing mysterious about the cause of this unusually bitter winter. It’s a combination of factors, mostly involving El Niño, jet streams and atmospheric pressure.

What is less certain – and what scientists will be trying to ascertain over the years to come – is the role of climate change on that trio of factors.

Scientists from NASA are already exploring the link on warming temperatures and the loss of sea ice in the Artic and how that connection may be impacting the chaotic winter weather.

Until then, bundle up.

(See also: Manatee death toll doubles due to cold)