Global weirding: Weather vs. climate change

Emily Tessmer, Editor

Whether you are an avid social media user, news buff, or recluse, chances are you have been exposed to some kind of debate or conversation around why our weather patterns seem increasingly wild, and what climate change has to do with it.

Dr. Andy Rost, associate professor and science department chair at Sierra Nevada College, refers to climate change as “global weirding” instead of global warming.

According to Rost, the climate system on our planet has three primary zones, and the zones are distinct per hemisphere. There is the equatorial zone, the temperate zone, and the polar region.

“The difference in temperatures between these regions keep their related climate patterns distinct in that they keep the wind patterns or jet streams in place,” Rost said. “Patterns are shifting in part because there is a deferential impact that is happening on the planet.”

Because the polar regions are heating up faster than the other regions, and the differences between the region’s temperatures are decreasing, we are experiencing manic repercussions in our weather patterns.

“Now what’s happening, is that because the polar region is heating up faster than the temperate region, the distinction starts to get blurred and as it blurs it allows the jet stream to wobble,” Rost said. “The jet stream now has a broader impact, and variability, and as the intensity of the jet stream increases, the intersection is less defined.”

Wild weather and greater variability are the predicted scientific outcome as a result of climate change, and this variability really shows up in precipitation and temperature patterns.

One place the greater variability is showing up is in the Rossby waves.

These Rossby waves, as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, are planetary waves that naturally occur in rotating fluids and within the Earth’s ocean and atmosphere. They form as a result of the rotation of the planet.

‘Weather’ vs. ‘climate’

According to Rost, there is a difference between weather and climate.

“Climate is viewed on a decadal scale and weather patterns are viewed on a minute scale,” Rost said. While the volatility might bring colder colds to some areas, this could actually be a general effect of the volatility that is a byproduct of a general planetary warming. Here in the Sierra, while we may be experiencing temporary blasts of powder and freezing temperatures, the weather patterns that are bringing these epic storms could be scientifically construed as an expression of this new volatility.

In addition, because of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, more water vapor is being created.

More water vapor adds to the amount of precipitation experienced in certain areas, because a warmer climate has the ability to hold and attract more moisture.

This feedback loop could also potentially create uninhabitable conditions for many regions in the future that are already vulnerable because of heat and drought. Increased evaporation is also a byproduct of higher levels of CO2.