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UAlbany’s Wild Weather

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The weather in Albany this past week may seem like a direct effect of climate change, but it may not adequately explain why the Capital region is experiencing unusual weather patterns this year, according to a University at Albany professor.

Wednesday experienced a high of 44 degrees and then roughly a foot of snow accumulated by late afternoon on Thursday, the first actual snow storm of the season. Last winter was the warmest winter Albany has had on record since 1932, with an average of over 13 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. This change is concerning, as the global temperature has only risen on average 1 degree annually since the 1950’s, according to NASA calculations.

This change is concerning, as many local farms as well as the maple syrup industry are already having to adapt to the changes in weather patterns. Winters have been becoming cold much later in the season, as late as January, and warmer spring temperatures have also been happening earlier in the year, before becoming very cold again.

This fluctuation in weather and seasonal onset has led to differences in the times that maple syrup and other agricultural products can be grown and expected to flourish. Maple syrup can now be harvested as much as three weeks earlier than it has been able to be in past years, but this leads to a far lower grade of syrup later in the year.

And many flower crops as well as fruit trees, two other important agricultural exports of New York, flourish in the short period of springtime weather, only to die when the cold reappears, leaving that year’s crop much lower.

Paul Roundy, professor of atmospheric and environmental sciences at UAlbany, said that while climate change is a concern, it is not the cause of the unusual winter weather patterns that Albany has been experiencing over the last few years.

While last year had the warmest winter weather in recent history, and this year’s weather seems to follow that trend, the blame is not on climate change, but the El Niño system that occurred last year, according to Roundy, who studies atmospheric waves.

The El Niño system is a naturally occurring, periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that occurs and raises the temperature to many degrees above average, sending out disturbances in the atmosphere around the globe that can last for years afterwards.

But what both El Niño and climate change increase is the variability in weather patterns themselves.

Although Roundy and other scientists have not figured out the exact reason why, there is evidence that backs up the claims of global climate change and El Niño increasing the unpredictability of weather patterns on a whole as their effects increase.

For winter weather, Roundy said that Albany will “more likely experience warmer winters going forward, but that the El Niño variance is not certain enough to say that there will be no more cold winters, just enough to suggest more warmer winters in the future.”

Roundy also wishes that both scientists and people that do not believe that climate change would “be honest with each other about what we know.”

While climate change has real and measurable effects, it is also something that “affects the climate with incredibly small impacts in many places, not something that could bring about the end of the world in a matter of years,” Roundy said.

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