2021 European Cold Spring Does Not Mean Climate Change Is Fake – Forbes
April 2021 was the coldest since 2003 for Europe, with a monthly average temperature 0.9°C below the 1991-2020 average. What should you say to family members doubting climate change because they see snow around them?
First of all, April 2021 was not the first April month since 2003 that was colder than average. In April 2017, Europe experienced wintery conditions that bear a lot of resemblance to what we saw last month, with a Europe-wide monthly temperature 0.7°C below average.
Also, globally, April 2021 was 0.2°C warmer than average, although not as warm as in the past 5 years (2016-2020) and as in 2010.
According to climate reanalysis scientist Julien Nicolas, who is working on temperature monitoring at the EU Copernicus climate change service (C3S), “one should not lose sight of the big picture”.
Nicolas points out that “the cold April weather in Europe came on the heels of a warm spell in late March that brought record high temperatures in parts of Europe” and adds: “the fact that the climate is warming does not mean that Europe cannot experience cold April months, it means that such months are becoming less and less likely”.
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It is important to look at the long-term trajectory of the temperature and not just focus on a single month. Evidence that the climate is warming is based on many temperature records from around the world and spanning many decades.
Then Global warming is – guess what? – a global phenomenon. It describes the rise in the average temperature that has been observed over multiple decades across the world. It does not mean that temperatures are continuously increasing all the time everywhere.
“Our climate system is very complex, with some internal variability superimposed on this long-term warming trend,” Nicolas says. “Weather and climate patterns can lead to colder-than-average months or years in certain regions while other regions experienced much warmer-than-average conditions. In that sense, a colder-than-average April in Europe is perfectly compatible with global climate warming.”
In fact, while most of Europe was experiencing winter-like weather, temperatures were well above average in western Russia, the Middle East, eastern Canada and even the Arctic.
At the same time, ocean heatwaves (also called ‘fevers’) are destroying ecosystems. Again, “the fact that marine heatwaves are becoming more frequent is a global phenomenon”. One cold month cannot by itself reverse this trend and, at least, it remains to be seen whether the cold will have any lasting effect on ocean waters around Europe.
“The oceans store vast amounts of heat in deep water layers below the surface,” Nicolas says. “As a result, the temperature of the oceans is much slower to change than that of the air above them”.
The increasing frequency of marine heatwaves has been linked to anthropogenic climate warming. “In general, because of the complex and chaotic nature of our climate system, it is virtually impossible to link a specific weather event to anthropogenic climate warming. What scientific studies can do is to investigate whether a certain type of weather events may become more or less likely under a climate warming scenario.”
Probably, we should be worrying even more since the warming of the climate is causing a shift in the seasons, in particular an earlier start of the spring. “As a result, the vegetation growing season is also starting earlier. This makes crops and fruit trees (and European ecosystems in general) more vulnerable to the type of late-spring frosts that occurred in parts of Europe in April 2021”.