Unusual winter whips Ohio

Kiera Manion-Fischer

Brian Castellani, associate professor of sociology, his daughter Ruby and dog, Dewey, spend a chilly Sunday afternoon sledding in front of Taylor Hall. “We’re die-hards,” Castellani said. “We go sledding every week, but this is the first time we’ve tried

Credit: John Proppe

Students hoping for snow during break were disappointed this year. Instead, it started snowing the first day of classes.

Ohioans were not the only ones to miss out.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce, the average temperature for 2006 has been the warmest on record for the continental United States.

In addition, December was the fourth warmest on record.

NOAA reported that it is difficult to determine the exact cause of the recent warm temperatures.

The fickle weather, to some extent, is due to both greenhouse-gas-induced warming and El Ni¤o, said Scott Sheridan, associate professor of geography.

“(El Ni¤o) tends to modify the pattern of the atmosphere’s circulation, and makes us somewhat warmer on average, though not as warm as we’ve seen,” he said. “The atmosphere itself also has very significant year-to-year variability that’s not connected to either. So, I’d say that global warming and El Ni¤o both make events like this winter more likely to occur.”

Joseph Ortiz, associate professor of geology, agreed.

“While it is tempting to suggest that global warming or climate change is the direct cause of the recent warming, it’s difficult to ascribe this with complete certainty because there is lots of year-to-year variability in the climate record,” he said.

Sheridan said it is unusual for winter in Ohio to begin this late but noted there have been a number of relatively snowless winters in the past.

“Scientists now talk about global change rather than global warming because our understanding of climate processes indicates that there should be changes other than temperature alone — to the water cycle for example — and the predicted pattern of temperature change is not uniform across the planet,” Ortiz said.

He said warming will be seen in the Arctic first, along with the melting of sea ice and glaciers and a measurable warming of the ocean about 3,000 meters down.

Ortiz said the two most important ways humans are influencing the climate are through the burning of fossil fuels and the changes in global land use — such as the cutting of forests.

He said the amount of CO2 released by burning solid and gaseous fuels like coal and natural gas in the United States is about equal to the amount released by burning liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel.

“A simple way to think about this is that your car releases about as much CO2 into the environment on average as all the appliances in your house,” he explained. “So, anything that you can do to reduce the CO2 emissions from your car will have a considerable impact on your carbon footprint — the amount of CO2 we each release into the atmosphere each year.”

Ortiz said there are a number of ways students can lower the amount of emissions they produce on a daily basis. He recommended keeping cars in good working order, driving more fuel efficient cars, carpooling, using mass transit and decreasing commuting distances.

He also suggested purchasing energy-efficient appliances, investing in alternative energy sources and encouraging the development of better mass transportation.

Contact news correspondent Kiera Manion-Fischer at [email protected].