This winter’s cloudless skies and snowless sidewalks were pleasant surprises for just about every student on campus. I honestly can’t cite a single time this semester I have heard someone say, “Man, I hope it snows soon. I’m so sick of all this effortless walking to class, not to mention the warm sensation in my hands. I mean, what is this? Florida?”
Aha! Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” strikes again! Not quite.
To those proponents of global warming who view this winter as irrefutable evidence of the theory, pump the brakes. Though a global climate shift has certainly affected the weather in recent months, it’s not the whole story.
The main reason behind this year’s balmy winter is related to weather patterns in the North Pole. The North Atlantic Oscillation is a weather current that hasn’t swooped down into the U.S. like it normally does. This current of arctic air typically reaches the U.S. during the winter months and causes temperatures to drop. It simply hasn’t moved far enough south to affect the weather here, and therefore, the temperature’s stayed warm.
Anyone who’s been following the weather trends in Europe over the past month will have noted that the country is experiencing one of the worst winters in modern history. Parts of Russia have actually recorded temperatures dropping to minus 63 degrees. The cold has caused the deaths of more than 600 people in the past weeks, mainly those without homes. The root of Europe’s record-breaking winter is the diametric opposite of the warm U.S. winter. The Arctic Oscillation current has turned to a negative phase, which has forced frigid arctic air from the North Pole into Europe.
The weather patterns in the U.S. and Europe are naturally occurring phenomena, and coupled with other weather currents, they’re responsible for the extreme climates this winter. Though both can be viewed as anomalous situations, there does seem to be a correlation with global warming here. Some scientists think that glacial melt has released warmer air in the Arctic, causing a shift in the aforementioned weather patterns which led to the extreme climates.
Whatever the cause is, certain parts of the country must cope with the after-effects of the warm temperatures. The obvious casualties of such a mild winter are those who rely on the snow to do business. Ski resorts are struggling to tread snow right now because the warm temperatures are affecting their ability to draw customers and even maintain man-made snow. In Michigan, about $4 billion in tourism revenue depends on the winter months to flourish. The warm temperatures and lack of snow have put a serious strain on the more than 40 ski slopes and resorts in the state and have hurt their profits during their short timeframe of operation.
Snow-related businesses may be suffering right now, and come harvest season, consumers will be in for a rude awakening. The warm weather has prematurely launched blossoming fruit trees into spring mode. The blossoms of these trees are temperature-sensitive and a few cold weeks toward the end of the winter could spell disaster for the industry. The early bloom may even cause food shortages across the country and drive up prices.
Consumers might be able to make up for these increased food prices with the money they’re currently saving on heating bills. Natural gas futures are currently trading at about $2.50 per million British thermal units and are expected to achieve a low of at about $1.80 per share. Compare this to the $15 per share seen back in 2005, and it’s clear that investors may be a little distraught by such a stark decrease in price. But investors aside, the low trading values are good news on two fronts: the cost of heating a home is cheaper and less natural gas is burned, which means less carbon emission.
Perhaps the best news to come out of this whole ordeal is the direct, positive impact that the warmer weather has on students. I don’t know about you, but I sure can enjoy a winter dusting a little bit more knowing it’ll be gone in a couple days. Last week, I went to the Nichols Arboretum in shorts and sneakers, for God’s sake.
This winter is a reminder that the climate of the earth is shifting and extreme conditions, whether balmy or frigid, are inevitable. So enjoy it while it lasts — who’s to say that our situation won’t be flip-flopped with Europe’s next winter?
Joe Sugiyama can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JoeSugiyama.