Processing Magazine

Weather is a water issue

The winter’s cold had everything to do with global warming

April 1, 2014

On Wikipedia it’s called the “early 2014 North American cold-weather wave.”

Around about Jan. 2, an Arctic cold front, initially associated with a nor’easter, tracked across Canada and the U.S., dropping heavy snowfall and breaking low-temperature records. And the weather’s been messing with us ever since.

The irony of it all, it’s further reported, is that it was sudden catastrophic warming that broke down the polar vortex and pushed tropospheric Arctic air southward. This warming phenomenon that occurs under certain specific conditions was first discovered in 1952. The troposphere is the lowest region of the earth’s atmosphere.

If you were unaware we even had a “polar vortex,” we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

This January was the fourth-warmest globally since records began in 1880, according to Brian Kahn at Climate Central. Global average temperatures have been among the 10 warmest for the ninth straight month. Arctic sea ice hit its fourth-lowest level on record. (Some of that missing ice obviously ended up on roadways around Atlanta, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala.)

Admittedly, it’s impossible not to wonder how some of these numbers were derived. Yet at some point hasn’t debate about climate change morphed into what is really reluctance to pay the freight? One well-worn way to put off footing the bill is to deny there is a bill.

If you disagree, let us know, but please be nice about it.

Pressures and impacts

Due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, temperatures are expected to raise between two to five degrees Celcius by 2050.

Water security and quality are vulnerable to climate-change depredation. “The impacts will exacerbate the increasing human pressures on water systems,” says the International Water Assoc. Low-level countries and river deltas are under threat of sea-level rise. Mountainous regions are impacted by retreating glaciers and snow melt. Arid and semi-arid regions are impacted by less rain and increasing evaporation.

Even in weather-benign, water-rich locales like the U.S. Midwest residents have recently dealt with situations like four inches of rain falling on six inches of snow in a very limited amount of time.

As early as 2008, it was the policy of New York City that climate change must be considered in all short-term and long-term infrastructure policy-planning initiatives. Aren’t most water-industry professionals on board with this, regardless as to what extent they believe humans should wear hair-shirts for causing it?

What’s said

The National Assoc. of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) believes climate change is primarily a water issue and that wastewater managers are becoming key first responders in weather emergency events. Its 2009 report with the Assoc. of Metropolitan Water Agencies estimated that the costs of building resiliency at water and wastewater utilities could reach almost a trillion dollars by mid-century.

Besides greater uncertainty in supply, the association says we will see increased demand for maintaining quality and quantity of discharges of rivers and streams for environmental purposes. We’ll see more conservation and new potable water sources, including desalination and wastewater reuse.

The NACWA was originally founded in 1970 as the Assoc. of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies by representatives of 22 large municipal sewerage agencies. It worked to secure the Congressional override of President Nixon’s veto of the 1972 Clean Water Act, allowing it to become law, and helped secure $26 billion for municipal clean water construction grants in the 1977 Clean Water Act Amendment. It also played a role in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It retains this role today of being an adviser to Congress on clean water issues.

Prior to January 2014, studies posited a connection between extreme weather and the polar vortex, leading to extreme temperatures in central North America. As a result of melting polar ice, the jet stream has become more variable, bringing warm air north and cold air south. And apparently we can expect more of the same.