Democratic State Senator Chris Larson asked followers on his Twitter feed if an unusual (but not rare) Wisconsin warm spell had them thinking of about the future:
Does our warm February give you pause to consider the growing dangers of climate change?https://t.co/aJ91CO4moD
— Senator Chris Larson (@SenChrisLarson) February 27, 2017
Larson shared a link to a story in the Atlantic that asks whether it’s okay to enjoy the warm winters of climate change. Of course, neither Larson nor the article provides any scientific evidence of a causal relationship between human behavior and the brief heat wave. Nor does Larson provide any historical context for 50 and 60 degree temperatures in February, or January or March for that matter. While it’s true some Wisconsin cities saw their warmest February day ever last month, temperatures nearly that warm have been recorded several times in the past 120 years. Here is a sampling of January, Feburary and March high temperature records for Madison, WI(intellicast):
Date High Temperature Record
1/1/1897 54 degrees
1/2/1897 53 degrees
1/3/1897 53 degrees
1/20/1906 53 degrees
1/26/1944 56 degrees
1/4/1880 53 degrees
2/5/1946 54 degrees
2/6/1925 53 degrees
2/8/1925 55 degrees
2/15/1921 63 degrees
2/20/1929 57 degrees
2/21/1930 60 degrees
2/28/1932 55 degrees
3/1/1882 62 degrees
3/2/1964 67 degrees
3/10/1894 66 degrees
3/16/1870 75 degrees
3/18/1918 70 degrees
3/20/1921 77 degrees
This is not to say that the last two decades of the 20th century didn’t see a warming trend. Records indicate that winters in Wisconsin and elsewhere in North America have not been as harsh in the past 20 years. But February temperatures in the 60’s in the 19th century illustrates their occurrence is neither freakish nor new. However, they are not necessarily indicative of long-term trends. And man-caused global warming skeptics argue that science has not definitively identified a cause and effect relationship between the rising temperatures and human activity.
The Chicago Tribune did find some people who consider unseasonably warm temperatures as a reason to worry about the future, quoting one woman, Yashira Massey, as saying: “It’s scary, that’s my first thing. Because in all my life I’ve never seen a February this warm.” Massey is 33. She was correct. Temperatures in the Windy City reached into the mid-70’s in February for the first time in her life. However, the Tribune piece also quotes two climate scientists who argue that short bursts of warm weather are not necessarily indicative of long-term trends:
“It’s very extraordinary. I have to keep reminding myself this is February and not March or April. It’s kind of weird,” said Jim Angel, the Illinois state climatologist.
Angel said it’s hard to draw a direct connection between stretches like the past few days and overall climate change because bursts of extreme temperatures are too short to allow for deeper conclusions. Illinois has always had great variability in its weather, he said.
A wider snapshot of the state’s weather over the last century, however, shows that Illinois winters have warmed 1.8 degrees, Angel said. What’s happening, he said, is harsh winters are being replaced with milder ones. The polar vortex winter of 2014, however, was a notable exception.
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University, agrees it’s impossible to know if the recent warm spell is due to overall warming trends this past decade across the country — which points to climate change — or a natural, periodic shift in weather.
The Atlantic piece Larson shared appears to try to shame those who would enjoy the warm weather:
If these feelings take the form of a question, it is something like: How much should we really be enjoying weather so unseasonable, so suggestive of the consequences of climate change, when we’re doing so little to combat the larger phenomenon? If we think the future consequences of climate change will be very bad, are we allowed to savor them now?
A completely unscientific sample of friends and co-workers surveyed by Media Trackers staff found zero respondents fretting about the future during the recent warm weather.