Whither Weather
By R. D. Flavin


     For the last several months, all regions of America, from the Right Coast to the Left Coast and everything in between, has endured some nasty weather conditions. We tried to blame it on the 'Global Warming' hypothesis making the rounds, but it didn't stick. And, sadly, there's only so much you can heap on the El Niņo Southern Oscillation. Whither this weird weather? Something's up, folks have had their towns, homes, and lives irrecoverably changed, and science ...doesn't have a good enough answer as of yet. If only there was some way to attribute the strange weather patterns to the Republicans, yet even I'm not good enough to pull that one off.

     Some folks don't take well to 'science' and respond with “feces occurs,” It's G*d's Will,” or some variation of “I don't know or care.” Yet, we are better in our knowing as it allows us (sometimes) to make changes which help us lead better, more secure lives. Our doctors still regularly prescribe drugs which are not fully understood as to long term reaction, or why some drugs seem to work, and whether or not “over-medicating” is a scientific or social phenomena. We do take a lot of pills... Sometimes it's a good thing, while at other times it doesn't turn out so good.

     We recognized pollution with the coming of the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) and it seems every week a new blunder reveals our laziness, arrogance, and crappy stewardship of Mom Terra. How we've messed up our oceans and our atmosphere is nearly irrecoverable, if we're not already past the point of ...can't fix it and it's time to leave. I've discussed (with disgust) the tons of plastics in our waters, though the recent learning of these plastic “microbeads” that have been added to many, many hygiene and other products since the late '70s, are too small to filter out, and have probably found their way into all the fish and seafood we eat is ...an “Oh, expletive!” moment of meaningful profanity. And, Congress continues to cut our science budgets, as well as NASA's. Optimists scream if we start doing our BEST right now, we might be able to undue some of our plastic poisoning of the oceans in 500 to 1000 years. We do so love our petroleum products! And, fossil fuels? Even IF the West immediately goes 'green' and environmentally responsible, chances are India and China will continue their irresponsible ways for a century or more. Yeah, we've defecated where we consume food and there might be no going back.

Data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 showing global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from 10-1 through 11-11, 2014.

     I've personally been proud of NASA's launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite to study carbon dioxide concentrations (see above), remain mystified why Mom Terra would switch from fifty years ago and northern hardwood trees soaking up excess carbon dioxide to today, when the task has been assigned to the southern hemispheric 'jungle' trees. What do women and Mom Terra want? Yup, it's a mystery...

     In a similar category are the presence of oceanic carbon “sinks,” massive underwater collections of carbon dioxide (three big ones, that I know of) and the reason for their existence. What does Mom Terra, the trees, and the oceans know that they're not telling us?

A poster for 1958's The Blob starring Steve McQueen.

     For more than a decade, scientists (and some climatologists and meteorologists) have been concerned with large swatches of the Pacific Ocean which have warmed ever-so-slightly, yet upsets the natural cooling of the air directly above it, and has caused some severe changes to North American weather patterns. It seems late last year two massive Pacific Decadal Oscillations, also known as PDOs or “blobs” (Bond et al. 2015; Newman et al. 2003; Mantua 2002) combined to form a "super-blob" which some scientists are blaming for last year's, the early part of this year's, as well as certain ongoing different, extreme, and nasty weather which much (if not all) of North America (and some of central America) has experienced in a variety of ways, depending on their geographical location. It's been rough and too often lethal these last several months and science is trying real hard to understand why, if it's going to continue, and is there anything we could do if only shouting “Something bad is about to happen!” is all we can manage.

Part of the “super-blob” of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation off the southern coast of California.

     While such famous currents such as the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean which benefit Ireland and the British Isles, as well the monsoon patterns in the Indian Ocean which when timed right can facilitate maritime travel (especially between Arabia and Indonesia [which has direct trade with both India AND China]), these PDOs influence the air-flows above them which ultimately produce profound and long lasting weather changes of pattern which have made many curse this past winter. I'm unsure about the “Decadal,” as in every ten years, though it seems to apply to the release of the findings of the National Science Foundation which custonarily contain predictions of areas which might deserve further investigation. There are partial records of the oscillation phenomena going back to ca. 1660 (thanks to dendrochronolgy and calibrating of the radio-carbon dates in old tree-rings), but the current buzz is that the joining of the two Pacific “blobs” into a "super-blob" has wrecked some serious weather havoc.

     Sometimes it's customary for someone about to be executed by a firing squad to wear a blind-fold, so the person doesn't know EXACTLY when the lethal moment arrives. We really can't do anything about ocean currents (or much about Mom Terra's 'bad' side, for that matter), though it helps some to understand the reasons and origins of certain phenomena, instead of just asking “Whither weather” or “Why is this happening?” Regarding the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, it's one of those things we must endure. Pollution and other human-caused problems are another matter and we should do our best while we still have a chance. I hope we have a somewhat normal and pleasant Spring...

Bond et al. 2015. “Causes and Impacts of the 2014 Warm Anomaly in the NE Pacific.” By Nicholas A. Bond, Meghan F. Cronin, Howard Freeland, and Nathan Mantua. Geophysical Research Letters. In Press – Cited as: DOI: 10.1002/2015GL063306.

Mantua, Nathan J. 2002. “Pacific–Decadal Oscillation (PDO). In The Earth system: physical and chemical dimensions of global environmental change, Volume 1. Edited by Dr. Michael C. MacCracken and Dr. John S. Perry; Editor-in-Chief Ted Munn. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. See: pp 592–594.

Newman et al. 2003. “ENSO-Forced Variability of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.” By Matthew Newman, Gilbert P. Compo, and Michael A. Alexander. Journal of Climate (American Meteorological Society). 16, 23: 3853-3857.

Waiting patiently for May flowers,

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