Why is this winter so warm?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Walking on grass and snow

December’s mild temperatures and limited snowfall in Southern Ontario caused flurries of questions about climate change.

“Across Canada, this was the warmest December on record,” said David Phillips, an Environment Canada climatologist. “In the sourthern part of Ontario, temperatures were four or five degrees above normal in December.

“No matter which way you look at it, this has been one of the slowest beginnings to winter ever.”

“It’s just weather,” said Graham Smith, a Western geography professor. “Whenever we have a warm spell there will be a lot of stories about global warming; whenever we have a cold spell, there’s no mention.”

“I think it’s definitely related to climate change,” said Gordon McBean, a geography and political science professor at Western.

“Climate change is not the explanation of it all,” McBean added. “We basically have two super-imposed events: the natural variability year-to-year and a warming trend over the past 20 years that is related to human activities.”

McBean dismissed the notion the mild December might be part of a cyclical pattern between warmer and colder winters.

“Cyclical implies this happens every 10 years. The events we will have in the future will be more and more on the warm side of things.

“If you look at the global weather data over the past 30 years and you put it into a scientific diagnostic, you conclude the weather over the past 30 years is different, and the only explanation is climate change.”

Smith said people claiming the recent warm weather is a direct result of climate change are trying to generate publicity and scare people.

“The actual figures show [that] for the past 100 years, average temperature has changed by 0.06 Celsius,” Smith said. “Now you tell me why that is a cause for concern.

“The climate is changing " we do need to pay attention. Is it the environmental concern of our generation? No.”

“I think last January was more remarkable,” Phillips said. “It was balmy from coast to coast to coast. It was six degrees warmer here in Southern Ontario. It didn’t generate as much buzz because we’d already had some winter [by January].

“The timing of this lack of winter has everything to do with why people are looking at reasons why it’s occurring,” Phillips added.

“I clearly believe our winters are more different now then they’ve ever been. If you look at the last 25 winters, for every one that’s cold, five are warm.”

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