Cold Case/ Hot Topic

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A family bundled in sweatshirts braved the chill wind on Miami’s Hobe Beach Thursday. It was not exactly what Esther Gavidia had promised her brother and sister when they decided to fly in from California.  Esteban Rivas said, “I was expecting women in bikinis but it is freezing out here.”

Chatter like that can eclipse talk about global warming. It should not says Dr. Brian Soden. He is a climatologist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He said of our repeated wintry blasts, “It is not a global phenomenon. Globally January, 2010 is the fourth warmest year on record going back to the 1850’s. And it has been unusually warm in parts of Canada and the Arctic.”

CBS4 Chief Meteorologist David Bernard notes that we have had a stormy El Nino period and changes in the upper atmosphere that led to blizzards in the northern U.S. and crop damage in Florida. He’s not surprised about the extremes of hot and cold this year. Bernard said, “It really has nothing to do with man-made global warming. It is the ebb and flow of meteorological patterns.”

If all agree that any one year is a blip on the weather scene the question is: what trends should shivering South Floridians look for on the long range radar?

Dr. Soden said, “You don’t look at a single winter or a single year or even a few years as evidence for or against global warming. You have to look at longer term changes, decade to decade. That is where you begin to see trends and on that timescale there has clearly been a warming of the planet over the last 50 years and the burning of fossil fuels is the only explanation for that warming.”

Dr. Soden doesn’t stop there. He added, “In the scientific community there is overwhelming consensus. Well over 95 percent of the scientists who actively research in this area know the planet has warmed over the past 50 years and that human activities are the primary cause of that warming.”

Dr. Soden says a global warming trend means South Florida might expect warmer winters and less citrus crop damage but also higher sea levels, more rain and fiercer hurricanes in the future.

Many in the meteorological community are skeptical about such an open and shut case. CBS4”s David Bernard said, “And maybe that is because we deal more with actual day to day weather and climatologists take a longer view of things. We see these patterns repeat themselves whether they are hurricane cycles or drought cycles or cold and warm cycles. That is what gives me a little bit of pause.”

The bottom line: healthy debate about the ultimate scope and impact of  man-made global warming will go on, but don’t use one frigid winter or one extra hot and stormy summer to make any hard and fast conclusions.

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