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Think Tank

2011: The Year of Completely Bizarre, Downright Crazy Weather

This ski season seems to be defying the laws of physics. When atmospheric temperatures are higher -- which they have been -- there should be more moisture in the air, and that should mean more snow, not less. And yet, the ski industry is in serious trouble this year due to an alarming lack of snow. This translates into a lot of expensive (and unsustainable) manmade snow, and very few trails are open at many of the most popular ski resorts in the U.S. So what is going on?

Scientists say we are experimenting with our planet, and yet they currently lack the funding to properly study this experiment. And so the public has been left to wildly speculate about what is going on, and we are unable to come up with any sort of solution to this problem. “People are just ready to sacrifice someone to the gods,” a Sugarloaf skier recently joked to The New York Times

What's the Big Idea?

The ski industry is hardly the only sector of the economy to take a hit from abnormal weather conditions in 2011. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which tracks extreme weather events, weather disasters in 2011 could end up costing in excess of $50 billion this year. The average year? $1 billion. 

Are extreme (and bizarre) weather patterns the new normal? While many climate change deniers have made the charge that scientists have embraced climate change orthodoxy to enrich themselves, a recent report shows the opposite to be true: a poor economy and hostile political environment has hampered research in this area. In other words, we really don't know to what extent climate change is responsible for the numerous extreme weather events that have caused so much damage in 2011. 

What's the Significance?

As stated above, the significance of extreme weather amounts $50 billion this year alone. The impact of abnormal weather on industries such as tourism and agriculture is much harder to measure, but anecdotal evidence suggests the tab is much higher than $50 billion. So how do we address this problem? We can either pray to the powder gods (which powder hounds, myself included, have been doing), or study this problem seriously. 

After reading of the Sugarloaf ski bum's joke about human sacrifice, I couldn't help but think of a previous post, in which Rebecca Costa pointed out that when cultures are unable to come to grips with their problems, people turn from fact to belief. The Mayans, after all, sacrificed humans to the gods. How well did that work for them? The same reliance on superstition, instead of science, won't turn out any better for us in 2012. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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