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Confessions of a climate-change snowflake

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 4/2/2018 By Alex Beam

Captain Louis Renault: And what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?

Rick Blaine: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.

During the March 13 nor’easter, a man cleared snow on Harold Street in North Andover. © Jim Davis/Globe Staff During the March 13 nor’easter, a man cleared snow on Harold Street in North Andover.

Renault: The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.

Rick: I was misinformed.

– “Casablanca,” 1942

YEARS AGO, I owned a house about 50 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I once made the mistake of visiting in June — a very cold, very wet, and miserable June.

The house was habitable for July, August, and September and pretty darned grim the rest of the year. But hope, in the form of global warming, loomed just over the horizon. Climate change would bathe Nova Scotia in Bermuda-like zephyrs, and I looked forward to living in the land of phosphorescent currency (Canada’s two-dollar coin glows in the dark) more or less year-round.

Now I feel like Rick Blaine of “Casablanca”; I was misinformed.

Ditto for New England. I used to fly to Los Angeles in late February to avoid the worst of the Boston winters, but I knew better times were ahead. New England was going to be metaphorical toast, if you read the newspapers during the 1980s. Globe columnist Diane White asked, sardonically: “Does this mean they may be opening a Club Med in Maine?”

More misinformation.

Last month, Rutgers University and the company Atmospheric and Environmental Research released a study confirming what has become all too obvious: “Five of the past six winters have brought persistent cold to the eastern US.”

In a prepared statement, Jennifer Francis, Rutgers professor of marine and coastal sciences, said that “recent observed heavy snowfalls, in particular in the northeastern United States, may be linked to [rapid Arctic warming], though further research is required to confirm the linkage.”

Arctic warming is causing wild swings in the jet stream, the air current that in the past reliably prevented polar air from flowing into New England. Other research suggests that warming is affecting the Gulf Stream, the ocean current that supposedly warmed the waters south of Halifax.

The Gulf Stream is a complex loop of cold and warm currents (the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, if you must know) that depends on cold Arctic sea water flowing underneath the warmer currents arising from the equator. But because of accelerated glacial melting in the Arctic, fresh, cold water — lighter than saline sea water — is entering the circulation system and bollixing everything up.

What does it all mean? “The US East is abnormally cold. We’re being flooded with Arctic air,” Jonathan Martin, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Wisconsin, told The Washington Post. “So we’re freezing.” As of this writing, it seems unlikely that Club Med will be opening a resort in Portland, Maine, unless it features year-round cross-country skiing.

Second, it probably means I will be spending less time in New England than in previous years, which may work out better for all concerned. Canada, a.k.a. Snow Mexico, now seems like a distant memory.

Lastly, I thought I would share the National Weather Service’s 8-to-14-day temperature forecast. Starting April 5, there is a 70 to 80 percent chance of colder than normal readings. (It also predicts some warming later in the month.)

New England as tropical paradise? I was misinformed.


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