Weather Blog

What does Matt Hasselbeck have to do with global warming?

What does Matt Hasselbeck have to do with global warming?
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck makes a short pass to Mike Williams, left, against the Green Bay Packers in the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
NOAA has compiled the August statistics and have announced that 2010 is neck and neck with 1998 for thoe hottest January through August in world history -- at least, the part of world history that we have temperature records for.

The planet's average temperature for January-August was 58.5 degrees Fahrenheit, tying the record heat set for that period in 1998, according to NOAA. While 1998 was the hottest year through the first eight months, 2005 is the hottest full year on record.

Among other tidbits:

-It was the third-hottest August on record with an average temperature for the month of 61.2 degrees F. The hottest August was 1998, followed by 2009.

-The meteorological summer - June-August - averaged 61.3 degrees F, making it the second-hottest summer on record worldwide behind 1998.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center said Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year and is the third-lowest extent recorded since satellites began measuring minimum sea ice extent in 1979.

Arctic sea ice covered an average of 2.3 million square miles during August. This is 22 percent below the 1979-2000 average extent and the 14th consecutive August with below-average Arctic sea ice extent, NOAA reported.

The new climate report noted that August was hotter than normal in eastern Europe, eastern Canada and parts of eastern Asia but cooler than average in Australia, central Russia and southern South America. For Western Washington, it was slightly cooler than normal.

It was the hottest August since 1961 in China, but the coolest August since 1993 in the United Kingdom.

Now, you're reading this and thinking "Hey, Scott, didn't you just post something about how Seattle is in the middle of their sixth straight cooler-than-normal month and that we are in the top 3 for fewest 70 degree days on record? What gives?"

Ahh, it's the ongoing battle climate scientists face in emphasizing the difference between climate change and short-term weather patterns.

Back in February, I used traffic patterns as an analogy for how Global Warming works, but this one might be more timely:

Let's say you're at home watching the Seahawks game, but the stadium cameras' zoom lenses are broken and they can only focus on one player at a time. So you have to watch the entire game with the camera focused on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (don't ask me what you do when the Seahawks are on defense. Go to commercial, I guess?) Anyway, if you just watched Matt as he drops back and either throws the ball, hands it off, or gets sacked (never!) you get a pretty limited view of what is going on in the overall play.

For example, you see Matt successfully throw the ball. Maybe he completed it, maybe it's an incomplete pass, or maybe it was intercepted (never!). Hard to tell when you take such a narrow view of the game.

And that is the danger that you run into when you look at the weather happening at your home and tie to to what is happening globally. Sitting here in 5 months of "Juneuary", you're thinking global warming was a farce all along. But let's say you're in Philadelphia, where they have had one of their hottest summers on record, with 53 days over 90 degrees. (Know what Seattle calls 53 days over 90? About a quarter century.) You're thinking we're doomed.

But you need to look at the bigger picture -- what is going on across the entire field to get a good feel of how the game is going. And even one game, (or, let's say month in this weather example), is tough to get a read on the overall situation. But each month builds into a yearly trend, which can build into a long-term climate trend. A hot month or year doesn't necessarily prove or disprove anything -- heck, even the Detroit Lions win a game now and then. But then one win doesn't mean you're the next New England Patriots. Now, string together a 12-4 season, then a few Super Bowls, and you can reasonably conclude that your team is doing quite well, even if Tom Brady happens to throw an interception on one play.

Similarly, conclude that several months and years are trending one way or another, and you have a decent climate trend. It's the overall long-term average, not what's going on out your window that has many climate scientists concerned. And recent data has been trending warmer. Now, you can debate all day long (and I'm sure some will) on whether the cause is natural, man-made, or fabricated, but hopefully this gives better understanding to the issue at hand.

(And sorry, Mr. Hasselbeck, for getting your name dragged into Global Warming :) Should make for some interesting Google search returns!)