Unless you’ve been living under a freezing cold AC-equipped rock for the past week, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the unusually warm spring temperatures gracing Boston. And while we’re all loving the sunshine, the fact that it’s going to be 80 degrees today may be a little unnerving for those that are worried about an apocaletptic, Mayan-predicted, “Day After Tomorrow” (minus Jake Gyllenhaal) doomsday coming our way.
However, fear not. The weather is just being weird, according to one Northeastern University professor. The warm weather may be attributed to a phenomenon called “global weirding.”
We grabbed a few minutes with Professor Auroop Ganguly, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and head of Northeastern’s Sustainability and Data Sciences Lab, to discuss “global weirding” and what it means for our climate.
What is global weirding?
Global weirding is a succinct way to describe the fact that climate change is not just about a few degrees of warming, but about more frequent, more intense and longer lasting extreme weather events as well as large changes in regional patterns of the weather. The term “global warming” does not begin to convey the urgency of the situation or the spectrum of possibilities. Weirding is really what is anticipated with heat waves getting hotter on the average, yet cold snaps tending to persist, heavy rainfall events intensifying in certain regions and certain dry regions undergoing more droughts and possible desertification, regional temperature and rainfall patterns altering, and so on. The impacts may be severe on natural, engineered and human systems, especially because of growing exposure owing to changes in population, urbanization and exposure of critical infrastructures.
What’s the difference between global weirding & climate change?
One way to think of this: Climate change is the cause while global weirding is the effect. Global weirding is the statistical change in the extremes of weather, as well as in regional weather patterns which are either caused or made worse by global climate change.
Are these warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing recently a result of global weirding?
Too early to say that.
The science of climate change attribution, where we delineate the effects of global warming versus natural climate variability, is not at a point yet where we can say with any degree of certainty that any one extreme event or any one seasonal high or low is directly a result of human induced climate change versus natural variability.
On the other hand, unusually warm winters and record hot summers are certainly consistent with projected trends. In addition, cold snaps are also expected to persist though growing less frequent.
Global weirding is about climate-related extremes, which includes severe events, extreme seasonal climates, or large regional shifts in weather patterns. However, rather than individual events or seasons, we talk about their statistics and longer term projections. If warmer winters in the Northeast become the overall norm (say over the next several years or a few decades), and that trend shows up over and above year-to-year variability, then we will say we have observed evidence of global weirding. While one unusually hot or unusually cold winter is not enough to prove or disprove global weirding, we have evidence of global weirding from observations already in many regions of the world.
Does global weirding help predict any weather patterns? For example – what kind of weather can we expect to have this summer?
No. Predicting day-to-day or even seasonal weather is very different from generating projections of longer term trends in climate or understanding the statistics of long term observed weather patterns and their changes at decadal to century scales. As far as climate change and consequent global weirding is concerned, day-to-day and even annual or seasonal weather changes are fluctuations around longer term trends.