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Weather, Politics, Climate Change



It’s easy to talk about corporate narratives undermining the fight to do something about climate change. But there’s a lot of room for deeper research and more nuanced understanding. That’s why this is pretty interesting.

December of 2015 was the warmest ever recorded in New Hampshire, by far. Indeed, in temperature anomaly terms (degrees above or below average) it was the warmest of any month for at least 121 years. January, February and March of 2016 were less extreme but each still ranked among the top 15, making winter 2015–2016 overall the state’s warmest on record — eclipsing previous records set successively in 1998, 2002 and 2012 (Figure 1).

Seeing in this record a research opportunity, colleagues and I added a question to a statewide telephone survey conducted in February 2016, to ask whether respondents thought that temperatures in the recent December had been warmer, cooler, or about average for the state. Two months later (April), we asked a similar question about the past winter as a whole. Physical signs of the warm winter had been unmistakable, including mostly bare ground, little shoveling or plowing needed, poor skiing, spring-like temperatures on Christmas day, and early blooming in a state where winters often are snowy and springs late. Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents correctly recalled the warm season. Their accuracy displayed mild but statistically significant political differences, however. Tea Party supporters, and people who do not think that humans are changing the climate, less often recalled recent warmth (Hamilton & Lemcke-Stampone 2016). Although percentage differences were not large, these patterns echoed greater differences seen in studies that asked about longer-term changes. Our February and April surveys had found counterparts on a much more immediate, tangible scale.

More of this sort of thing would be great. Last winter was ridiculously warm (although the leaves still weren’t on the trees until May so what’s the point) with several weird days in Rhode Island of temps in the upper 60s and thick fog on the ground, as if the Earth was revolting from whatever is happening to it. Of course, I can’t complain about the lack of snow. But that people would identify it differently depending on how they feel about climate change is fascinating and might well mean that they are already see the survey as a political question and are going to deny it regardless of what they actually think about the weather when they are being surveyed on a 60 degree February day in New Hampshire.

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  • delazeur

    This is a great example of why I’m not convinced that educating people about environmental science is an effective way to get them to change their views on environmental policy: you simply can’t educate deniers about the science.

    • Yeah, the liberal belief that you can educate people into making the right decisions may not be completely wrong, but it isn’t right either.

      • David Hunt

        I’m reminded of the old saying that you can’t reason someone out of a position that they didn’t use reason to get into. I’ve heard it’s even worse for intelligent people because they’re better at coming up with reasonable-sounding justification for their beliefs.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I will say that, talking to some people who spout some dingaling shit on these matters, people I otherwise know, I realize that they know every little about environmental, ecological kinds of things. It’s just not something they care about. (Also, people who do are hippies, and they hate hippies, so…)

      I think they’d care more if they knew more. But a lot of people don’t care to know.

      • Rob in CT

        Ignorance can be cured. But willful ignorance is another matter.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          Willful ignorance can be cured also.

          Just strand them on a tiny little island, mere inches above (current) sea level, and they WILL come to understand that climate change is real, and has real effects.

          Added sharks are just a bonus.

          • cpinva

            “Added sharks are just a bonus.”

            make it barracuda instead. sharks are just programmed to eat anything in sight that’s not bigger than they are. research on barracudas presents a slightly different approach to why they attack. apparently, while it’s true they attack to eat, they also attack just for the hell of it: they don’t like the way you looked at them, or just had a fight with mrs. barracuda, whatever. and they don’t care if you’re bigger than they are. this makes them far more dangerous than even the nastiest shark, and they swim a lot faster than sharks do as well. they might not wait for the water level to rise, they might just jump out and attack that denier on dry land, because they can.

            • Randall Smith

              They may also be aware that they’re incredibly tasty even when raw, and so attack out of sheer necessity.

              (My local sushi joint carries barracuda regularly as a special, and it is AMAZING.)

      • delazeur

        I realize that they know every little about environmental, ecological kinds of things. It’s just not something they care about. (Also, people who do are hippies, and they hate hippies, so…)

        I do environmental impact assessment and policy analysis, and my experience has been that while there do exist knowledge environmentalists the median hippy doesn’t really know any more about it than the median denier.

        • John Revolta

          Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

        • cpinva

          “I do environmental impact assessment and policy analysis, and my experience has been that while there do exist knowledge environmentalists the median hippy doesn’t really know any more about it than the median denier.”

          while i don’t doubt this to be true, I’d bet money that the median hippy would be more willing to listen to and try to understand the environmental concerns, than the median denier would be.

          • delazeur

            That’s probably true. My point wasn’t so much that hippies don’t care about science as it was that most hippies didn’t become environmentalists after a careful study of the science. Silent Spring and An Inconvenient Truth, for example, are not terribly rigorous and do not impart a deep understanding of the topic, their other merits notwithstanding.

            • delazeur

              Real good job with the italics there, delazeur. Real good job.

  • catclub

    I bet the ones who said it was colder:
    a) Just moved from the south.
    b) Had less money to pay for heat last winter.

  • Murc

    More of this sort of thing would be great. Last winter was ridiculously warm (although the leaves still weren’t on the trees until May so what’s the point)

    Last spring scared me in a way I have a hard way articulating. I’m going to try again.

    For those who don’t know, I live in upstate New York. Last year was the Winter That Wasn’t; I picked up my shovel once, when we had a blizzard in February, and that was it. But it was followed by the Spring That Wasn’t.

    The cold just… lingered. Through March, then into April, then into May. Highs in the forties. Snow flurries on May 12th.

    Now, there’s always seasonal variance. We’ve had late springs before. But this was the first year I’d find myself looking out the window in early May, and… nothing. A smattering of green on the trees, more appropriate to late March, and the grass still looking like it had just thawed out. And this was weird, because the sun was high in the sky, clearly it was May just from the angle of the light.

    And I’d get this feeling in my gut. This feeling that something was wrong every time I looked at a tree that hadn’t even started to bud yet. It was like the world itself was sick and bedridden, like it was trying to get up after winter and just couldn’t manage it. It was scary, scary in a way I’ve never really been scared about anything else before. I’d lie up thinking about it.

    I’ve told this to people and gotten blank looks, so I might just be weird. But last spring was… not a good one. I don’t recall walking out of doors and thinking “this is normal” until June.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Ditto. And I’m many states south of you, living in the piedmont about and hour from the Appalachians. Kept waiting for the time to take the electric oil radiators out of the rooms we use them in our oldish, vaguely insulated house. And it just took forever.

      An apple farmer an hour west of us has cancelled this fall’s pick-your-own season. His orchard got such a late start that it’s just not going to work out.

    • CaptainBringdown

      I saw trees blooming in the dead of winter in northern New Jersey.

    • Last winter it was in the 60s for persistently long periods in Dec and Jan. Roses bloomed all over Philly. It was *fucking freaky*.

      Seriously disturbing. I’d never seen the like before.

      • Breadbaker

        It was 80 in Seattle in April and 90 in May. I don’t think it had ever hit either of those marks before in those months.

        • Bruce B.

          Yeah. I first lived in the Puget Sound area in 1985, as a college student, and first spent an entire summer here a year or two later. I grew up in interior Southern California, and one of the reasons I loved it up here was how SoCal kinds of summer just didn’t happen. There’d be a stretch of at most a week or two when the heat really serious made you wish you had air conditioning; other than that, a couple of fans did the job just fine. Now it’s genuinely a necessity for anyone with significant health problems affect by heat.

      • Brett

        That was us here in Salt Lake City in the 2014-2015 winter. I think we had one tiny snow flurry in October that melted immediately, then no snow and cold until Christmas Day (I was out in a t-shirt and shorts while comfortable on December 22nd). Then it got cold for two weeks, warmed up, got really warm for the first three weeks of February (breaking the temperature records with flying colors), and then cooled down again.

        Our flowers bloomed as well.

        I remember dreading that the summer would be brutally hot given how warm February, March, and August were, but thankfully it wasn’t.

        • los

          series of drought years in the west, with 2015 the worst.

          Last year I found a “pastor” blabbering on gitwadpundit or similar, about “liberel enviro mintalists stopping dams”
          .. ignoring that dam water levels had been dropping during previous years, and that in spring of 2015, snowpack was zero where it normally has been 5 feet.

          The pastor probably thinks that Rick Perry can dam water that doesn’t exist.

    • Rob in CT

      Yes to this, Murc.

      I described this past spring as being “abnormally smooth” or somesuch. It was definitely odd.

      You’d see something like this:

      Mon: 45
      Tues: 46
      Wed: 44
      Thurs: 48
      Fri: 50! woohooo, here we go
      Sat: 47
      Sun: 48

      So yeah, we had the year with no winter, then this very slow & steady spring and now for about 2 months we’ve had a consistently hot (and dry!) summer.

      But even the summer has been like the spring in a sense. It seems so smooth. Yeah, it’s hot. It’s consistently hot. We’re not getting a week of 95-100 followed by low 80s or something. We’ve been getting 90ish every day for weeks on end.


      August 2015: 809 kwH consumed.
      August 2016: 1012 kwH consumed, with one more day to go. Call it 1040.

      Frustratingly, generation is flat despite the lack of rain.

      • Rob in CT

        July sucked too. 2015 consumption = 930. 2016 = 1117.

        At least it looks like the heat has broken. The forecast still looks steady, but with highs around 80 instead of 90. Still not much rain in sight though. We’ve got to be approaching 10 inches below average at this point. Things are still green, because you know, Connecticut, but it’s suboptimal.

        • In related news, I am not sad that I have been out of Rhode Island the last 2 months.

          • Rob in CT

            Seems to me the weather is a distinctly secondary factor in that… ;)

            • Not entirely untrue! But I don’t like hot summers, especially of the humid variety.

              • Rob in CT

                Well I’m with you on that, yet I love CT in spite of the humidity in the summer.

                There’s worse places, for sure. That time I went down to North Carolina in May to find it was 95 with high humidity every day…

                • Moondog von Superman

                  I guess North Carolina is as far south as you’ve ever been in the summer?

                • Rob in CT

                  Not quite. I’ve been to Tampa, but I was little. Im not a fan of Florida in the summer either!

              • delazeur

                As a lifelong Westerner who has often visited Pennsylvania relatives in August: I do not understand why anybody who has a choice lives on the East Coast.

                • Srsly Dad Y

                  You are visiting the wrong damn state.

              • Moondog von Superman

                There are places in the world where the heat index can’t be accurately measured (because that index only works up to about 136 F).

                In some portion of these places, people don’t have electricity to reliably operate a fan.


      • delazeur

        Frustratingly, generation is flat despite the lack of rain.

        What do you mean here? EIA data suggests that CT doesn’t use very much hydropower.

        • Rob in CT

          My solar panels. What I mean is that I’d hope that in an abnormally dry stretch we’d get more insolation and, thus, generate more power. A silver lining.

          This has not been the case.

          Generation July 2015 = 1265 kwH. 2016 = 1227.
          August looks similar – it will probably come in just below 2015.

          • tribble

            Are they getting dirty? That can seriously cut into generation.

            • Rob in CT

              I don’t think so. The pollen shows up earlier in the year. I actually haven’t looked at them recently (they’re on the back of my roof and they’re up high enough that I have to go pretty far out into the yard before I can see them).

              I could hit them with my pressure washer* just to be sure, but I’ve been trying to avoid using too much water.

              * don’t worry, not point-blank on high power, it’s just they’re high enough that the only way to reach them is to use the PW. The garden hose doesn’t have the juice.

              • tribble

                It’s worth a shot to clean them. Less rain is also less natural cleaning of the panels and more dust in the air to stick on them. You could be losing a few percent even if they don’t look dirty from that distance.

                • Rob in CT

                  Hmm, makes sense.

                  I’ll try and get to that this weekend.

      • Murc

        August 2015: 809 kwH consumed.
        August 2016: 1012 kwH consumed, with one more day to go. Call it 1040.

        My usage is a bit over half that, but I just have a one-bedroom. I have the same 20% increase year over year from 2015 to 2016, tho.

        I’m about ready for it to be fall, but with our luck that’ll be fucked up too. I hope it isn’t. The local economy is still more dependent than we’d like on agriculture. Like Bilo, I know apple growers hereabouts who are… concerned, and the berry crop isn’t looking amazing.

    • Vance Maverick

      Presumably if the seasons stabilize like this, the vegetation will change to take advantage.

      • Vance Maverick

        to be clear, I’m not suggesting “it’s all good.” Rather, I mean the odd emptiness you describe, the lack of new growth despite the mild weather, is a transitional state, like the stark bare hillsides exposed when the water drops in the reservoir.

        • BigHank53

          If there’s time. Plants can only move as far as their seeds are carried. If the climate changes too much before a tree is mature enough to reproduce…well, that’s that. something else will have to fill in its ecological niche.

          • los

            also Island effect – when combination of climate, soil, and “symbiotic” species is unique.
            Weedier species will succeed.

      • Aziraphale

        The seasons will not stabilize if we carry on emitting large amounts of CO2. If and when they they do, the new equilibrium may not be one that suits us. Disease-carrying insects will be found in areas previously safe, for instance. And our food crops, which are highly specialized, may not have enough variation to adapt.

      • Moondog von Superman

        Presumably if the seasons stabilize like this, the vegetation will change to take advantage.

        Invasive species, kudzu, pine beetles, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats and the like will not wait.

        • Vance Maverick

          Huh? That’s what I mean. I don’t mean that the noble autochthonous species of Connecticut will adapt like finches.

    • Downpuppy

      And now we have drought in Massachusetts.

      Map’s a week old. 0 rain since then.

      • Not just drought–D3 categorization, which is pretty intense.

      • lunaticllama

        I hike often in the Catskills in upstate NY (due west of MA) and the streams are almost all dried up. Makes it really hard to backpack, because there aren’t any water sources on the trails.

    • Those couple days in February were very cold and sandwiched between the warm days weren’t good for crops (no peaches in MA this year) or buildings (several local schools damaged). There were no maple buds or seed thingies this spring at all, the trees went straight to leaf. Spring starting in mid May at the earliest is about normal here though.

      • thebewilderness

        Same problem here in the South Puget Sound. No plums this year.

    • Nick never Nick

      The winter in Alberta was extraordinarily mild, and we had forest fires and grass fires in April. It is a sickening feeling when you look around and feel that everything is fundamentally out of whack. I’m hoping that the strongest effects were El Nino related, at least partially, the idea of climate change being that far advanced is terrifying.

    • CrunchyFrog

      I’ve had a similar experience this summer. I’ve spend most of it working in the area along the PA-NJ borders. It’s been crazy hot and ridiculously humid all summer. I’ve done jogs in the local forests and my senses scream at me that the flora is all wrong for this climate – which it is.

      Now, keep in mind, 2016 is likely a local outlier in terms of record high temps. Similar to the way 1998 was. It probably won’t get this hot again for several years. 1998 wasn’t matched until 2005. However, the respite will be brief. If 2017 temps are the same as 1998s they will match the coldest year in the last decade. What was, 18 years ago, an annual temperature that blew the lid off of all previous heat records would now be a very unusually cool year.

      And yes, that means that in 2034 they’ll be pining for the cooler temperatures like we had in 2016.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        I grew up in central NJ back before this started. When I moved to NC, people warned me about the heat and humidity. I found nothing surprising. The only difference was the length of the season.

        90-102F high temps in summer were possibilities. Humidity was part of the package.

        But yeah, how long it drags on sure will be changing.

  • Matt McIrvin

    I find that chart heartening. I would have expected the partisan difference to be much larger.

    • The Politicizer

      Agreed. There’s a difference there, but it’s not that huge, and nearly 2/3 of Trump supporters got the answer correct.

      • Rob in CT

        Glass half full today, eh?

        Given that utter absurdity of this past winter, the idea that any large group of people includes ~40% who don’t realize/want to admit that it was warmer than normal is something I find pretty frustrating.

        • los

          “My video games weren’t any warmer than last year.”

    • LosGatosCA

      I also agree with this point. 61% of the Trump people think it was warmer?

      That’s positively shocking. My prediction would have been a reverse 27% acknowledging the truth. The actual total was double that.

      This could take on a gay marriage type evolution. Enough people put solar on their roofs and rave about savings, maybe Musk gets the EV’s marginal cost of power to zero (after solar/battery fixed cost invested), employment in solar, wind, etc. helps people get jobs, some areas go into permanent drought and all of a sudden we reach a political tipping point on climate change – threats become immediate/real, adaption not too painful and voila

      • Steppanhammer

        Distressingly, all of that could happen, and it’s still within the margins of error of various models that we’ve released too much CO2 to avoid cataclysmic shocks to food systems and such.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    The small numbers for “colder” are elderly people and others with endocrine disorders. Also strongly correlated with “I don’t know what time it is.”

  • thebewilderness

    There are many things that affect the way we remember seasons, I think, but mostly it seems to be the extremes.
    Here in the PNW we had an ice storm that did a lot of damage. People were without power for weeks. Although it was only unusually cold for two weeks it is remembered by most people as a hard winter while the year we had lasting cold and 12 snow events is not.

    • delazeur

      Are you comparing ’10-’11 (ice storm, power outages) to ’08-’09 (snow)? It always surprises me how many people have forgotten the time Seattle got 4 feet of snow. I think the ’10-’11 weather disrupted my life more than the ’08-’09 weather did, but still.

  • Denverite

    In Colorado, a warmer winter typically means more snow. People think it was colder because it was snowier, but it’s really the opposite.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Yep. Our snowiest months are March and April. Long time residents in the forests hate these because the snow fall when the temps are relatively high (upper 20s and lower 30s), which increases the moisture density of the snow, which in turn causes lots of tree falls due to the weight of the snow. And while the fluffy December stuff is a breeze to remove the heavy April stuff is a major pain.

      And yet – even though at one level the long time locals understand that more snow = higher temps for a given winter month, those with wingnut brains still do the Reagan end run in their thought processing and will make comments about how the snow proves global warming is a hoax. You really see this with farmers, who in the same conversation will talk both about how their farm management strategies have changed since the 1980s due to higher temps and also disparage climate scientists for being part of a UN hoax.

  • NoraLenderbee

    This confirms that Clinton leads Trump among middle-aged and older women.

    Nora “Hot Flash” Lenderbee

  • Last winter was ridiculously frighteningly warm.

    Fixed it for you.

  • joel hanes

    that people would identify it differently depending on how they feel about climate change is fascinating and might well mean that they are already see the survey as a political question

    Nope. Happens before they’re ever asked the survey question.

    Confirmation bias strongly influences our experienced reality.

  • Nick never Nick

    We live in an age rich in stupidity, self-delusion, and Nietzschean horrors.

  • Peter VE

    In Providence, my garlic sprouted in the week after after Christmas, and my peach tree bloomed. The garlic recovered, the peaches didn’t.

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