It’s been a balmy winter in New York City, and apparently the rest of the nation, too. A study shows that last month was the fourth warmest January in one hundred eighteen years for the contiguous United States.
By Jacqueline Guzman
It’s another sunny afternoon in Morningside Park — around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Children are climbing on the jungle gym and running around in light jackets; a normal scene, except that it’s February and there isn’t any snow in sight. Alicia Aliendre is here with her daughter, Lauren. She says she’s definitely noticed something different about this winter.
“This weather’s been up and down. It was 60 degrees, then it was 50, 40 degrees, says Aliendre, a nursing student. “Yesterday was the very first time that it was actually freezing outside, where I just wanted to stay at home.”
Other regions have also experienced warm-than-average temperatures this winter. A study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that last month was the fourth warmest January in 118 years for the contiguous United States. The average temperature was 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit — 5.5 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.
As strange as the weather has been, Aliendre says she’s not convinced that it has to do with climate change. “We have our days, we have our moments,” she says. “When it starts snowing in say, July, then I’ll starting worrying about global warming. But for now, No.”
The relationship between global warming and this season is highly debated among experts. “It could be a combination of several different things happening,” says Neil Pederson, a researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute’s tree lab.“One is the trend of warming that we generally see around the world. But maybe then there’s something else within the system that causes the northeast to be warmer than normal.”
Pederson says he’s mostly concerned about the lack of snow. He calls that a “snow drought” and says it could have a negative impact on certain types of trees.
“There are roots that die every year, and that’s pretty normal,” Pederson says. “But in years, like this year when there is no snow pack, the soils will freeze and that freezing will kill a higher percentage of roots than normal.”
Snow acts like a blanket to the “feet” of a tree; it insulates the fine roots, so they can absorb nutrients and water. But if those roots die, new buds can’t grow the following season, affecting animals like squirrels and birds. But Pederson says it’s the long-term outcomes of global warming that should concern New Yorkers.
“In the world, there could be significant reduction of ice sheets and more water into the ocean,” Pederson explains. “When the water warms in the ocean, it expands and this cause sea level rise.”
For New Yorkers, that could mean big trouble. “So then if another hurricane hits,” he adds “that could cause a storm surge and flood subways and all kinds of things. That could really disrupt life.”
The earth has felt a warming trend for the past few decades. Even so, average temperatures fluctuate year to year. “Next year could be really cold and we could really have a lot of snow,” Pederson says. New Yorkers and their children can enjoy playing in the park now, but should know the possible consequences of changing climate on Mother Nature. “We all need to be concerned about global warming because we can’t predict the future.”