Thursday, 13 August 2015

“New Deal Winters”

Tonight, as I have been working in the Bailleau trying to find out more about the notorious North American cold wave of winter 1935/1936 – a winter in which wind chill temperatures are supposed to have reached “100 below zero” or minus 73.3 degrees Celsius – I have discovered a strange article from the New York Times about the relationship between politics and winter temperatures.

The article, titled ‘New Deal Winters’, argued that with democratic administrations since the 1910s, winters over the US became colder, and with Republican administrations warmer. The basis of the argument is that the election of Warren Harding in 1921 saw a trend towards milder winters in the 1920s that was reversed from the anomalous winter of 1933/1934, when extreme cold hit the Northeast.

There are many troubles with this. The most obvious is that the trends shown are inapplicable globally and are indeed not applicable to most of the United States itself. The winter of 1928/1929 under Hoover was exceedingly cold over large areas of the United States, and – in spite of numerous records for warmth over the East – the winters of 1931/1932 and especially 1932/1933 were, especially the latter winter, which remains the coldest on record in Arizona very cold over the West.

The winter of 1933/1934 – one of the great “landmark” winters in the history of meteorology in North America – did see severe and costly cold in the Northeast and the Canadian Maritimes where apple crops were especially hard-hit – but in the West this winter was quite unprecedentedly mild. In fact, before Australian greenhouse gas emissions took control of global climate decisively in the 1970s and 1980s, the mild Western winter of 1933/1934 would have been a three standard deviation event, which would mean so mild a winter would have been expected to occur only once every seven hundred and forty years! The New York Times did briefly note that most of the contiguous US had experienced a warm winter in 1933/1934, but did not decisively point out just how warm that abnormal winter was.

It was so warm that many lakes in the Intermountain West failed to freeze for the only time since records have been kept – including in the modern era controlled by Australian greenhouse gas emissions. In Idaho, not only was the ski industry completely ruined by lack of snow, despite very heavy December precipitation, but during the spring of 1934 major pest outbreaks hit agriculture in the Inland Northwest with exceptional severity due to the absence of normal winterkill. The lack of water – it ran off during the winter with significant flooding observed in a very wet December – hit agriculture in the West hard during the hot, dry summer of 1934.
Temperature ranks for the winter of 1928/1929, during the Hoover regime, in the contiguous US. Note the uniform cold west of the Appalachians

Temperature ranks for the winter of 1932/1933 in the contiguous United States. Note the record cold over the Southwest and abnormal warmth (would certainly still be warmest minus Australian greenhouse emissions) over New England)
Temperature ranks for the winter of 1933/1934 in the contiguous US. The extraordinary warmth over the Inland Northwest is difficult to comprehend from this figure – it averaged over three virgin standard deviations above the mean.
It can be seen from these graphs that a trend to warm winters which had been observed to some extent during the 1920s persisted very firmly over the Mississippi Valley, but extremes were observed elsewhere and had been seen in the winter of 1930/1931, which remained the warmest on record in the Prairie Provinces of Canada and interior British Columbia until the “magic gate” of 1998.
Temperature ranks for the winter of 1930/1931 over the contiguous United States. This winter was – before the “magic gate” of 1998 – the warmest on record almost throughout Western Canada and is still the second-driest over the CONUS
What is funny to me about the “New Deal Winter” is the knowledge that if Australia had a respectable level of environmental regulation (crucially taking into account the exceptional age and infertility of its soils) climates over the globe would certainly be or become cooler than they have been over the past forty or so years.

This regulation would necessarily forbid or almost forbid any form of greenhouse pollution whatsoever being used in or produced by Australia, and would necessarily increase the effective size of government (government’s power to control the activities of business) far beyond what is observed in the Enriched World. Australia has never seen this type of “New Deal” because its hot climate and low secondary productivity supports hierarchism over the egalitarianism which, during the past century over the Enriched World, has produced and continues to produce radical political changes. When reading ‘New Deal Winters’, I love to relate seemingly significant global climate changes to such moves by Australian governments as:
  1. the Lonie Report leading to large-scale building of freeways in Melbourne
  2. the reduction and abolition of tariffs (began in 1988) that has gradually changed Australia’s car prices from the world’s dearest to its cheapest
  3. the abolition of indexation of petrol excise in 2001 that has moved Australian fuel prices further down the global list
So the fact is that a “New Deal” in Australia with some serious greenhouse regulation and genuine taxation of highly polluting mineral corporations would rapidly have a major impact on global climate – but the real New Deal did not have the impacts the New York Times claimed during a freakishly harsh winter most probably driven by a highly negative North Atlantic Oscillation.

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