New Climate Study Met With Controversy
In January, I met with Simon Wang, director of the Utah Climate Center, to discuss the difference in winter weather in the eastern and western United States. In 2014 the West set record-warm temperatures and continues to experience drought conditions, while the East is still expecting heavy winter storms and record-low temperatures going into March.
Recently Wang, in partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Taiwan Normal University, published the official report detailing their findings.
“We are seeing an ongoing trend that as the western Pacific warms, in relation to global warming, we will have this kind of unique pattern of dry Western winter and cold, damp Eastern winter together. That is the conclusion.”
The study has been regarded by the media as controversial within the scientific community, because it links extreme climate events, like the extended California drought and recent Eastern abundance of snow, to global warming attributed to human causes.
Wang said the controversy has been trumped-up by the media, and with new fields of study like his, there is always debate, it’s how the scientific community works.
“We as scientists very much welcome the debate and controversy, because this is really a new study area. It’s totally fine, perfectly normal that other scientists have their own hypothesis and they try to disprove ours. We very much welcome that,” Wang said
One thing that differentiates Wang’s research from similar studies is that his looks at the variability or extremes of weather caused by climate change. Other studies have just looked at average precipitation levels, which can downplay the severity of a drought or heavy storm. It’s not that these studies use different tools and models to reach their conclusions, they just analyze their data in different ways.
Wang said another issue that causes misinterpretation of climate studies is that it’s hard to digest scientific data like his into a report for the general public.
“Identifying what affects what is not easy to understand. So the public, or let’s say the general news media, likes to jump into very clear cut conclusions, ‘Global warming is causing the California drought.’ As scientists, we cannot say that,” Wang said. “Instead, we are saying global warming contributes to California drought intensity through this, this and that. Once we get to that, they’ve kind of lost attention.”
Wang was sure to point out that warming in the western Pacific is just one weather pattern that affects the nation’s entire weather system. However, he said it does has a significant impact, and monitoring it can help us peer into the future.
“We want to provide the best information science can provide. By identifying this pathway, we can monitor that part, give us some indication, and give you the best educated guess of what this coming winter will become,” Wang said. “We can do that, I believe.”
You can read the full study from the Utah Climate Center here.