Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, January 8, 2012


There is no more graphic proof of global warming than the annual weather chart published in the New York Times every January. This year's edition was published today.

“New York City’s Weather in 2011,” which is compiled from Accuweather data, shows five record temperature highs for the year; record rainfall in May, June and August (the month of Hurricane Irene); record snowfall in January; the snowiest October and a tie for the least snowy December.

There were no record temperature lows.

This data, found only in the physical newspaper and not online, is for Central Park in New York City. My husband, the more scientifically inclined of the two of us, collects it. He showed me several years' worth of his collected annual charts, and we’ve been warming for some time. The last record low temperature was in January 2004.

Near the end of November 2011 it reached 70 degrees in New York City, a record, while one day in mid-December tied a record at 62 degrees. Between those points there were 15 days (not consecutive) of above-average temperatures. I saw a lot of people walking around in shorts enjoying the relative warmth during that time, telling TV news reporters how they hate snow, hate the cold and hope neither comes.

News flash: Winter in this region is supposed to be cold and snowy. I don't know about you but during those few below-average days during this period I heard a lot of bitching about having to deal with what seemed like extreme cold but was not when you look at the cumulative chart. It just felt that way after all that abnormal warmth.

Here’s another example: Bryant Park, one of the busiest parks in midtown New York City, has had some unusual birds hanging around including one or two of the largest warbler, the yellow-breasted chat. A lot of birds were also reported hanging around elsewhere in New York City as well as in central and southern New Jersey.

According to the New York Times chart, 2011 had the sixth-wettest September on record followed by the snowiest October, helped by the pre-Halloween storm (this picture is from the start of that storm) that destroyed still-leafy trees and left millions, including me, without power for anywhere from hours to weeks. Normally the birds that can’t migrate south at that time of year die because they can‘t get the food or the warmth they need this far north.

When the temperatures started rising late last year the birds in these warmer-than-usual areas found bugs, still-flowering plants plus the usual bird feeders to keep them alive. Birders were very happy about these unusual winter birds after complaining how all the rains and strong winds early in the year made for a mediocre spring migration - as in, there was little to see because the birds flew around the storms or got a helpful, strong push past this region.

This birder thinks we are in a world seriously out of balance, or koyaanisqatsi.

Extreme or lack of snowfall: My plants were buried under a mountain of plowed snow into February. Relatives in Minnesota and New Hampshire recently told me ski resorts were hurting in December because they didn't have any snow.

High winds and rain: Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey as a tropical storm. A tropical storm is one level below the lowest level of hurricane. So it wasn’t a big deal, right? Tell that to someone living along the Pompton, Passaic or Millstone rivers who is still trying to recover from water damage or having a house swept away.

Extreme heat: According to the Times’ chart, New York City had two consecutive record highs in July of 104 degrees and 100 degrees. The days leading up to and following those highs were also above normal, making July the fifth-warmest on record. When it is so hot, you need a lot of water. We did not run our sprinklers but as the grass went brown our lawn-worshiping neighbors did, usually in the middle of the day when it does the least good. Thanks to the unusually high amount of rain we had in March, April and May, we had no summer drought and the neighbors could get away with this wasteful behavior.

Meanwhile, many parts of the Midwest were hit with flooding from rain-swollen rivers. Many others were hit with a severe drought creating modern-day dust bowls. Texans were praying for some of Irene’s rains to put out wildfires destroying acres of land, to no avail. Crops were destroyed, cattle couldn‘t be fed. Prices of bread, fruit and dairy are going up.

There are people who believe there is no such thing as global warming. There are others who would do anything to sacrifice our air and water to cut dependence on OPEC oil during these hard economic times. They see hydraulic fracturing - fracking, for short - into rock for oil or gas as our savior, despite its potential to pollute vital groundwater.

They want to rip up the Earth to do this drilling, this century’s version of the clear-cutting that scarred the coal country of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. (Overdevelopment is another form of clear-cutting, for instance in New Jersey.) They also want to build more roads and factories and gut the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming companies would be more productive and expand their workforce if they didn't have to think about emissions or safety requirements.

Sorry, but this American worker still wants clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

This country is all about the short-term fix and no long-term planning or even thinking about the consequences of our actions as we consume, consume, consume.

You buy fuel-guzzlers and wonder why gas is so expensive, roads are in disrepair and there is so much traffic. You pave over the woods and wonder why there is damage from increasingly common "100-year floods" caused by runoff when the heavy rains hit. You put houses where none should ever have been built and pour more concrete that holds more heat, helping create this unnatural endless summer. You run inefficient, dirty factories, then blame the laws protecting citizens from your pollution for "forcing" you to leave the country and your workers behind.

It is frustrating. I do what I can - including trying to make you think with this blog - but I’m only a cog in this whirling machine, alarmed by how fast we’re going, how we are doing things to go faster rather than slowing down, wondering how we’ll keep going and when we’re going to break down.

The usual cliche to write at this point is that you reap what you sow.
I wanted to find where in the Bible that is written and found it in Galatians 6:7-8.

But I found something else in my research, in Genesis 8:22. It‘s supposed to be comforting, about the balance of life:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.

How much longer do we have?


  1. Hi Margo,
    Nice pictures! I forgot you were a birder. Maybe you can answer a question my kids and I were discussing the other day. When we first moved into our house in the late 1990s, we used to get huge flocks of bluejays that would land in the trees in our neighborhood (next to a nature preserve) They were really loud and colorful, can't remember what time of year it was, but we'd get dozens, maybe a hundred or more, all sitting and squaking in the top branches of our trees.
    I haven't seen flocks like that in years, in fact we seem to get very few bluejays anymore. Is this some kind of cyclical thing? Why does this happen?

  2. Hi Lavonne, and thanks for your comments. I am not sure why you are not getting the large number of blue jays of years past, but to use some of the knowledge I show off in my "How to Look Like an Expert" post of the other week (ha), I would guess that something went amuk in the ecosystem - maybe a predator scared them off, or a disease spread through or maybe the trees weren't offering enough berries or seeds to support such a large flock. The jays may also have been crowded out by other birds such as starlings, grackles or crows, which can form large flocks in winter and eat everything in sight. For your sake I hope they come back because jays can be very entertaining.