Title: Why Our Weather is Going Wild
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WL00002540/00001
 Material Information
Title: Why Our Weather is Going Wild
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publisher: Reader's Digest
 Subjects
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
 Notes
Abstract: Why Our Weather is Going Wild, Dec 1982
General Note: Box 10, Folder 22 ( SF Water Modification - 1981-83 ), Item 10
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: WL00002540
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text

S rT H15 YEAR the north Trn
SUnited States suffer -he
Coldest June in 103 years. In
August snow fell three inches deep
on ski slopes in Vermont and dust-
ed nearby mountain peaks. Parts of
New York and Connecticut report-'
ed below-freezing temperatures
and too-m.p.h. winds. There were
frost warnings as far south as Mary-
land and West Virginia.
On the other side of the country,
meanllile, ,the Rocky Mountain
statesl4ere suffering a streak of the
hottest weather in too years. And
Southern California natives, accus-
tomed to constant dry desert heat,
sweated through days of muggy,
subtropical humidity.
These dramatic changes in the
weather were caused by shifts in the
jet stream. Normally this great riv-
er of wind blows across the north-
ern half of the United States. But in
January 1982 it swerved temporar-
ily to far higher latitudes than nor-
mal over western Canada. picking
up colder northern air. It also
dipped far to the south over the
eastern half of -the United States,
hauling chill arctic winds with it.
The result: in Chicago, the
wind-chill factor fell to 81 F. be-
Slow zero. Even in Houston. the
thermometer fell to a low of 12* F.
With its cold temperatures and
heavy snows, the winter of 1982
could be judged one of the worst of
the century. And some scientists are
warning that it may be only the first
of many more years of bizarre
weather.
Why does the jet stream run
wild, and why do a number of
scientists expect coming winters to
be colder? There are three theories.
The first blames the sun. Every 1 .2
years on average, the number of
magnetic sunspots on the sun's sur-
face reaches a peak, during which
solar activity increases and the sun
may shine up to one-percent
brighter and hotter than when its
surface is quiet.
One proponent of the sunspot
theory is Richard Willson. an atmos-
pheric physicist at the let Propul-
sion Laboratory in Pasadena. Calif.
.According to Willson, the harsh
winter of 1982 occurred after the
Most recent period of increased so-
lar activity. Since 1979 the sun's
output of radiation has decreased
Sby more than one-tenth of one per-
cent. Small as this change is, Will-


LDemner 1982

Deamerls




Digest


Why

Our

Weather

Is Going

Wild
Last winter was one of the
meanest of the century-
and a combination of natural
and man-made influences
could threaten further climate
extremes in the future

BY LOWELL PONTE


son argues that it could have tipped
the delicate balance between winter
and summer. If the sun's radiance
continues to dim until the low point
in the sunspot cycle, around 1986,
the winters until then could be-
come progressively colder.
It has happened before. Accord-
ing to Jack Eddy, an astrophysicist
at the National Center for Atmos-
pheric Research in Boulder, Colo.,
sunspots seemed to vanish almost
completely between 1645 and 1715.
Europe and America suffered dev-
astating winters during this period,
which weather scientists call the
Little Ice Age. Another such cold
period occurred between 1770 and
1820. Records show that during the
American Revolution the British
were able one winter to drag heavy
cannon across the thick ice between
Staten Island and Brooklyn in New
SYork harbor.
A second theory p edicts bizarre
behavior by our weather as a result
of the eruption of the El Chichin
volcano in Mexico last March and
SApril. The volcanic cloud from this
explosion was the largest from any


volcano since 1912. The plume
from El Chich6n reached more
than 19 miles into the skies. High-
altitude winds then spread a veifof
gases and ash through the atmos-
phere of the Northern Hemi-
sphere, keeping out part of the
sunshine that otherwise would
warm the earth.
According to Brian Toon of the
NASA Ames Research Center in
Mountain View, Calif., it will take
several years for the debris from El
Chich6n to filter out of the atmos-
phere. In the meantime, Toon esti-
mates, the monster cloud, which
may have intensified New Eng-
land's record chill this past August.
will make the northern hall of our
planet one-half to one degree F
cooler than normal this winter.
There is precedent for this phe-
nomenon too In 181(-known as
the Year Without Summer-cold.
wet weather in Europe caused par
crops and brought near famtmc to
some areas. In the northeastern
United States. snow fell in fune.
and there was a hard frost in Au
gust. Henry Stommel of the Woods
Hole Oceanographic Institution in
Massachusetts has suggested. after
studying the records of that terrible
year, that the cold wave could have
ben caused by immense amounts
of gas and ash injected into the
atmosphere by the eruption of
Mount Tambora in what is now
Indonesia. The largest volcanic ex-
plosion .in several centuries, it
caused twilight skies in distant
parts of the world to glow red, and
the moon to appearr hble as it shone
through curtain of volcanic haze.
A third theory predicts extended
cold weather simply as a result of
the unusual amount of snow that


-





covered North America in the win-
ter of 1982, one of the snowief
recent history. On one day last FiI-
uary, snow lay on the ground over
75 percent ofNorth America and in
every state of the Union, including
such usually balmy places as Flori-
da, Mississippi and Alabama. Snow
reflects up to go percent of the
sunlight shining on it. Last a nuary,
when much of the Sun Belt lay
covered with snow, a vast amount
of sunlight that should have
warmed the soil was instead reflect-
ed back into space.
A study by George J. Kukla of
Columbia University's Lamont-
Doherty Geological Observatory in
Palisades, N.Y., found that the
heavy snows of 1971, '72 and '73 in
the Northern Hemisphere were
partly caused by a phenomenon
termed snow feedback. The first
snowfall will have a cooling effect
that causes any additional precipi-
tation to fall in the form of more
snow. According to Kukla, one
snowstorm begets another in peri-
ods of heavy precipitation-in ef-
fect intensifying the severity of the
winter.
Other long-term factors may
also be involved in the recent, and
S likely future, eccentricity of our
weather. In 1975 a National Acade-
my of Sciences (NAS) study re-*
vealed that just as Earth has an
annual cycle of winter and sum-
mer, it appears also to have a much
longer natural cycle of what might
be called planetary winter-ice
ages-and planetary summer,
times of balmy warmth. These cy-
cles are caused by gradual changes
in Earth's orbit around the sun.
According to NAS scientists, Earth
passed the warm peak of one of
these climatic cycles during the last
4000 to 5000 years.
The weather we grew up think-
ing of as normal, these scientists
concluded, was not normal at all.
The balmy conditions of the 20th
century have prevailed for only
to,ooo of Earth's past 500,ooo000 years.
They calculated that the odds fa-
vored a return to colder weather in
the next few thousand years-and
that may well mean more erratic
weather in the near future.


And what role does the let
stream play in all this? Formed
from the exchange of energy that
takes place when cold arctic air
meets warm airt from the tropics,
the jet stream is constantly shifting
in reaction to temperature changes
in the air and the oceans, and the
level of polar-ice melt. Scientists
lack specific explanations for its
erratic behavior, but they know
that fluctuations in the jet stream's
course can mean dramatic changes
in our weather.
However, today's weather scien-
tists may have more to consider
than natural cycles. Earth's climate
'and weather, some of them believe,
are no longer entirely natural.
Man's activities could become a
major factor in shaping them. In
the opinion of many climatologists,
we have less need to fear a new ice
age than a more immediate and
possibly devastating warming
trend, brought about by immense
amounts of carbon dioxide released
into the atmosphere by the burning
of fossil fuels.
When the use of coal, oil and
gasoline began during the Industri-
al Revolution, carbon dioxide ac-
counted for perhaps 300 parts per
million of Earth's atmosphere. To-
day it amounts to 330 p.p.m., and by
some projections it could make up
6oo p.p.m. after the year 2050.
This worries scientists because
our world exists in a delicate ther-
mal balance. Every minute vast
amounts of energy pour through
our atmosphere in the form of visi-
ble sunlight, and an almost identi-
cal amount of energy leaks back
into space as invisible infrared radi-
ation. If anything were to disrupt
this balance, our world would either
chill because it has too little sunlight,
or heat up because not enough infra-
red radiation was escaping.
A buildup of carbon dioxide in
our atmosphere should slow the
Leakage of radiation back into outer
space. After some two centuries of
increasing fossil-fuel pollution sci-
entists have found no hard evidence
That carbon dioxide is altering the
climate of our world. However, it
may he one factor in a temperature
difference that certain scientists
perceive to be developing between


the Northern and Southern
hemispheres.
A study b'v the U.S. National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-
istration suggests that the level of
the world's oceans may be increas-
ing at an accelerated rate, perhaps
because of melting ice in Antarcti-
ca. Exact measurements of the sea
level aren't possible, but some anal-
ses suggest that the oceans may
ave risen by as much as four inches
in the last decade and the level may
increase another ten inches during
the iq8os.
Why should the climate he
warmer in the Southern Hemi-
sphere? One reason may be that
most of Earth's landmass is in the
Northern Hemisphere, while our
oceans are mostly in the southern
half of the world.. Land and water
react differently to climatic condi-
tions. Foi example, snow does not
blanket oceans, and water does not
absorb sunlight in the same way
land does. As well, industrial pollu-
tion is much heavier in the North-
ern Hemisphere. where it may at
present be acting as a sunlight
blocker.
Thus we face the uncertainty of
not knowing what the interaction
of natural cycles and pollutants will
do to affect Earth's weather. The
future is cloudy, but the likelihood
is that we are beginning to leave the
warmest (lays of planetary summer
and may see greater extremes of
weather in the seasons to come.


L~ 2D
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