On Winter 2013/14 Travel and Climate Change

March 6, 2014 – I am finally back from Florida and once again sifting through the content my web crawlers and affiliations with social networks that provide me with the fodder I turn into 21st Century Tech blog.

The drive home was weather eventful as was the drive south on our way to Florida (the Atlanta ice storm). In the case of the latter we missed the tail end of a storm the Weather Channel named Leon. And on the way back we ran smack dab into a new storm designated Titan.

From Knoxville, Tennessee to Lexington, Kentucky, a short distance of 260 kilometers (approximately 160 miles) our drive experienced every form of precipitation imaginable beginning with rain, turning into sleet, then freezing rain, and finally heavy, windblown snow. In the heights of Tennessee we got stuck in an endless line of vehicles after a semi-trailer plowed into a mountainside when it hit black ice. The Interstate was blocked for several hours. But the sitting didn’t help us as the freezing rain accumulated on our van to make it almost unrecognizable when we pulled into our hotel in Lexington, Kentucky (see the picture below after I cleared ice from the aerial, hood and windshield).


Mazda Tennesse ice storm



Past the bottleneck the windblown snow reduced six lanes of Interstate into two. The windshield wipers barely worked, the washer fluid nozzles froze shut, and ice on the roofs of transport trucks kept flying off randomly striking vehicles including ours, smack dab on my brand new windshield (installed in Florida after it cracked on the way coming south). When we finally made it to Lexington, almost 6 hours after our start, I would guess the van was carrying an additional 200 kilograms (approximately 440 pounds) of ice and in places resembled an icy quilled porcupine.

But now we are back home and once again facing the winter of 2013/14, the one that never seems to end. This winter has made climate change skeptics in this part of the world challenge climate scientists. It is the coldest on record in eastern North America since 1979. More than 90% of the Great Lakes are covered in ice. That’s because the skeptics believe weather and climate change are synonymous.Which brings me to a discussion happening on ResearchGate, a site where academics post their latest writings and debate all kinds of scientific subject matter. One of those on the site, Naeem Akram, works in the Planning Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad, and he has asked “What is the most appropriate indicator to gauge the impacts of climate change?” This has led to a number of thoughtful, well positioned responses.

Gunturu Bhaskar of Massachusetts Institute of Technology states in his posting that:

  • Climate change is far more than temperature increases. There are multiple variables that must be considered including sea level height, frequency of cyclones, rainfall amount and distribution, concentrations of methane in the atmosphere, and ocean circulation patterns.
  • He defines climate as “averaged weather” over time and then suggests that the periodicity for observing climate change is minimally 30 years because this duration encompasses most known cycles of variability (seasonal, interannual, interdecadal, El-Nino, El-Nina, etc.).
  • He concludes that mean temperature change over time represents the easiest measure to determine if the climate is changing and points out that climate change is not the same as global warming.


This latter statement is important to emphasize. Global warming is by definition an increase in the Earth’s atmospheric temperature leading to a greenhouse effect and weather variability consistent with warming air, land and ocean surfaces. The causes include the release of new sources of greenhouse gases (non-anthropogenic and anthropogenic) in excess of the Earth’s absorptive capacity, or increases in the total amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s ocean and land surfaces. The latter can be caused by changes in the Sun, and alterations in the Earth’s orbit or axial tilt.

Climate change, on the other hand, is the record of variability in Earth’s atmospheric temperature, rainfall distribution and amount, and composition over time. With climate change the direction can go both ways. The planet’s atmosphere may warm or cool. But with global warming the direction is a one way street – temperatures going up over time.

Stewart Cohen of Environment Canada has added his own commentary on ResearchGate. He states that climate change measurables must include trends in the amount of ocean ice coverage (impacted by temperature, changes in ocean currents, frequency of storms), forest coverage and deforestation, land under cultivation, urban growth, and other human surface altering behaviors. With ocean ice he is talking about the permanent ice cap over the Arctic Ocean which may be losing the designation permanent in the next few decades. He is also talking about the sea ice that forms in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. Cohen states that one measure of climate change can be seen in the number and amount of insurance claims related to weather events. It should be noted that claims and dollar amounts have been trending upward for several decades.

For the climate skeptics this year’s eastern North American winter provides the evidence they need to argue that global warming is a hoax. They ignore the true measure of climate change which is “averaged weather” as stated by Bhaskar.

I understand where the skeptics are coming from. Having driven through the worst that winter can offer in the last week I fully appreciate that short-term view as becoming a means to justify skepticism. I too yearn for a return to spring and maybe just a touch of “global” warming to make this winter end once and for all.




Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...