With all the crazy weather currently being experienced across the United States, many conversations are turning to the topic of climate change.
While it’s been the focus of debate for years and politicized to death, there are climatologists who study the long-term changes of weather patterns across the world. One of those, Dr. Randall Cerveny who teaches at Arizona State University, said the U.S. is certainly experiencing odd weather.
“This is rare because it hasn’t happened for a while,” he told News/Talk 92.3 KTAR’s Bruce St. James Show on Friday.
According to Cerveny, the frigid temperatures hovering over the Eastern seaboard used to be normal about 25 years ago. Is it a result of climate change? Possibly.
“With this system we’ve got right now, I think there’s a little bit of change associated with it,” he said. “If you think back to when you were a kid or to your parents or grandparents, these kinds of cold events that they have in the east happened a lot more frequently than they do now.”
However, Cerveny said it’s difficult to tell if the weather is a fluke or part of an actual trend in climate change. As a climatologist, he studies the long-term effects of weather. The big problem he and other scientists face is the human weather record.
“That’s part of the problem: Our weather records don’t go back that far,” he said, adding that the National Weather Service has only been around for about 150 years.
Another issue is the lack of weather monitoring stations around the planet. It’s basically like trying to put together a massive puzzle with some of the pieces missing.
While the East Coast digs out from yet another snowstorm, Phoenix is enjoying abnormally high temperatures. Friday is expected to tie the record 85 degrees set in 1957 and Saturday is expected to break the old record of 83 set in 1977. Cerveny said the high temperatures could be the result of climate change, but humans have an impact as well.
“Phoenix, as a city, gets hotter,” he said. “It’s because of what we do. We have asphalt, we have concrete that absorb heat, so the city is almost always about five to seven degrees warmer than it is out in the desert.”
Some climate change may feel a small impact from human life. Cerveny gave the example of Phoenix using the equivalent of 36 inches of rain per year, but not averaging anywhere near that. However, he said it’s impossible to say one thing causes another because “our climate system is, frankly, the most complex thing that we have studied.”
When all is said and done, the weather will be weather and climatologists like Cerveny will continue to study it. But with all the doubt in his field, he said there is one thing that is certain:
“We are living in a changing planet. That’s something that can’t be argued.
Our climate has changed in the past, it’s changing now and it will change in the future.”