Most people who are not scientists want to know how the Eastern U.S. had a bitter winter and the world in general was the hottest on record. GOOD QUESTION. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA in short, where the National Weather Service resides), provides picture proof.
This winter the eastern 2/3rds of the U.S. had what seems like continuous Arctic and even Siberian air outbreaks and it was brutally cold while the western 1/3 of the U.S. baked. (In fact the west was so warm that it balanced out the brutal eastern cold to still make the U.S. winter warmer than normal).
So, what about the rest of the world? Well, as I told everyone this winter, Russia and Siberia was experiencing a warmer than normal winter (their cold air came over the pole to the U.S.!). NOAA published a world-wide temperature map showing the deviations from normal in temperatures this winter. Red is warmer than normal, Blue is cooler than normal. The darker the colors, the more extreme the temperatures.
For people who don't get climate change, this is an easy-to-understand visualization that shows there's much more warmth than cold (although I wish we were in one of the many the warm winter regions!) - Rob
NOW, ONTO THE ARTICLE: This has been the warmest winter on record, except in the most politically important part of the world
When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2014 was the warmest year on record, we couldn't help but notice that the Eastern United States was among the places that recorded their coldest temperatures last year. The year-end map was the minor league version of the map above, which shows a giant blue blanket over half of the country -- despite this being the warmest winter on record.
That eastern half, of course, is where most of America's residents live and all of its federal legislators work. Which is why we get things like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) bringing a snowball to the Senate floor for show-and-tell. Inhofe was right in one sense: February did end up being colder than usual. And for those who insist that cold weather disproves the idea of a warming climate (which it obviously doesn't), that was just more fodder.
The most powerful parts of the world were, on the whole, significantly less warm during the record-setting February. Compare the map at the top of the page with the ones below, contrasting population (using data from NASA) and, to measure relative power, economics (from the World Fact Book) across the planet. Western Europe and the Eastern United States were colder than many places -- and disproportionately economically powerful.
And it's economics that often motivates opposition to taking action on climate change, as we pointed out earlier this week. There is an up-front cost to addressing climate change, which is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested that power generators simply ignore a federal mandate to clean up emissions. (The emissions from power production are among the largest contributors to the atmospheric gases that are warming the planet.)
There's some psychology at play, too. People are less willing to accept findings that the climate is warming when it's cold outside. Which is sort of logical, and sort of not. But it means that trying to address climate change during a record cold snap is an uphill battle.
On Thursday, President Obama will sign an order cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the federal government. It will spur the now-expected response from opponents to such action. Some of them will almost certainly point to the weather in doing so. It's cold out! How can the climate be warming? The answer: Last month, it was warming dramatically in the least politically convenient locations for advocates of moves like Obama's.