Weather Watch

Earlier this week, AccuWeather reported that mid-January could bring brutal cold waves across the United States from Canada. Evidence shows there’s been “sudden stratospheric warming” six to 30 miles above the Arctic region. When that happens, it generally pushes colder air down and then south. Brrrr!

After that chilling bit of news, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its State of the Climate report for 2012. Not counting Alaska and Hawaii, last year was the warmest on record for the United States. It also brought the second most extreme weather on record for those 48 states. Tornado activity was below average. However, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and other storms were all up.

The extreme weather from 2012 may be a taste of things to come. By 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates that average global temperatures will rise between 2 and 11.5°F (1.1 to 6.4°C). Even small changes in average temperatures can boost the chances of storms, droughts, and other extreme events.

Jeff Masters at Weather Underground compares it to rolling loaded dice that have an extra spot on one of the dice. You’ll have more cases of extreme events like those from the past. Plus, some events could be even more extreme than what came before. “It’s just a couple of degrees warmer most days,” Masters told me. “But those extremes—they really can bite you.”

Even at its worst, Earth’s weather won’t get as bad as what NASA recently found out in space on a brown dwarf called 2MASSJ22282889-431026. (I’ll just call it 2M for short.) Made of condensing gas, brown dwarfs don’t get hot enough to start the nuclear fusion that would make them full-fledged stars. Nonetheless, 2M’s temperature is about 1,100 to 1,300°F (600 to 700°C). Some of its windy storms are as big as our whole planet. And its clouds include things like sand, iron droplets, and exotic compounds. Put it all together, and you’ve got quite a storm!

Fortunately, the weather out on 2M doesn’t directly affect us. In the short term, people in most of the United States should be ready to bundle up at any time over the next few months. It is, after all, winter.


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