Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Winter Storms

The press has certainly taken the subject of the weather to new highs. We cannot avoid excessive coverage today of every winter storm. To date we have had a very conventional winter in every way that you care to look at it. I would describe it as average and without real extremes as yet. Getting a lot of snow is more an indication of mildness.

The interesting question is whether or not the temperature will be low enough in the BC pine forests to stop the pine beetle infestation in its tracks. I certainly hope so since that will nicely end a nasty threat to the pine forests. We can call the pine beetle the canary in the mine for climate warming.

The much more interesting question is if this is having any effect in the Arctic itself. My expectation is that we are heading for a neutral year, although winds may hide this. It took unusual winds last year to clear the seas to the extent achieved. If those winds were to fail in the coming season we could have a larger sea ice minima even though the net ice is either neutral or even declining still.

My own sense is that it is still warmer than we think and that the ordinary weather patterns are hiding this. Remember that sixty percent of that perennial Arctic sea ice disappeared with nobody noticing. Also this past year saw a lot of heat dumped into the Arctic Ocean which must slow the winter sea ice growth. That extra heat did not disappear.

I also continue to see some alarmist commentary on the dangers that the polar bear faces with these past warmer summers. This is utter rubbish and the conservationists and the press both know better. The few polar bears who insist on living at the southern extreme of their range in Hudson bay are at risk. In the meantime, expanding ranges north of them with better conditions for prey animals is actually promoting an expansion of the bear population and will be even more so if the Arctic clears every summer.

Remember that polar bears hibernate during the summer and in winter hunt on sea ice thin enough for seals to create air holes. If all the too thick ice disappears then the seals must have a larger range as does the polar bear. All the historic evidence that I have seen suggests that the bear population is at a maximum. I look forward to been corrected.

I guess white seal pups are not photogenic enough, while them polar bears really have great moves. I am reminded of a cub reporter sent out by his editor to do a story on the damage caused by all the parks board heavy equipment removing logs from the beach. Somehow I do not think that story survived the next tide.

In the meantime, we are having a great winter sports season, which everyone should take full advantage of. It does not get much better than this. I see Buffalo had a sellout crowd for a new year's outdoor hockey game. I think that this is a fantastic new year's day event that deserves to become a tradition for a lot of Northern NHL cities. It may take a few bits of technology to make it reliable but it is worth it as a great once a year event that promotes larger audiences for the game. The NHL needs to make this work. New year 's day deserves something better than the polar bear swim.

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