The ice and snow storms that shut down parts of the U.S. may not be over yet?there may be more to come, due to an El Nino in the Pacific Ocean. "El Nino is one of the driving forces behind these kinds of winter storm systems, which develop in the South and head east," says Conrad C. Lautenbacher of NOAA. El Nino occurs when surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean remain above average for more than a few months. This can affect wind patterns high in the atmosphere resulting in changed weather in many parts of the world.
Despite the recent storms, NASA says 2002 has been the second warmest year on record. There?s been a record-breaking period of warm weather in recent years, with 2001 the third warmest year on record. But 1998 still holds the record.
"Studying these annual temperature data, one gets the feeling that temperature is rising and that the rise is gaining momentum," says Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington.
In 2002, the Earth's average temperature was 58.35F, compared with the long-term average of 57F, says NASA?s James Hansen, who analyses the data collected from thousands of weather stations around the world.
From December to November, 2001, temperatures averaged 58.11F. The record was in 1998, when global temperature rose to 58.40F, the highest since records were first kept in the late 1800s. This increasing warmth shows that humans are at least partly to blame for changing the climate, according to Peter Frumhoff, of the the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He says, "It's important we pay attention to this drumbeat of evidence as the signal of human impact starts to emerge from the noise of natural climate patterns."
Some of the heat of 1998 was caused by a large El Nino event that year, which warmed the waters of the Pacific. But last year there was a La Nina event, which kept temperatures down. The current El Nino is not generating nearly as much heat as the one in 1998. Hansen says, "The fact that 2002 is almost as warm as the unusual warmth of 1998 is confirmation that the underlying global warming trend is continuing."
Meanwhile, NOAA's predictions for December through February are for warmer temperatures across the northern half of the country. It will be drier than normal in the northern Rockies, including Montana and northern parts of Idaho and Wyoming, as well as in the Midwest, including eastern Iowa, eastern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
Wetter-than-normal weather will hit the South from California to the Carolinas, including California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, southwest Utah, southeast Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, southern Nebraska, western Missouri, western Arkansas, Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and eastern North Carolina. It will be warmer and wetter than normal in southern Alaska, and cooler and drier in Hawaii. Global warming isn?t a myth?it?s really here. So what can we do about it? Surprisingly, there?s a lot we can do. Learn the details from The Coming Global Superstorm, now only $9.95 for a hardcover signed by Whitley.
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