Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Speaking of the Weather

Light banter about the weather is a common sequel to our friendly greetings when we encounter a neighbor. In our region the light banter has become more detailed of late as my neighbors in Northern Illinois exult over a mild and virtually snow free December and January. Our frigid, snow covered landscapes and icy roads of early winter the last five years are a fading memory. Some days the bird songs have sounded almost spring-like.

“What is happening?” we all wonder. We are not to worry, our local weather experts instruct us. Global warming was not mentioned in the same breath as their less familiar explanation that the “Arctic Oscillation” (AO) is responsible. This phenomenon has been identified explicitly since 1998, even though it has affected our weather patterns as long as we have studied them.

Normally over Earth’s North Polar Region there is a large bubble of cold air in place. Sometimes the air pressure in that bubble becomes higher or lower than the normal mean pressure over a short or long period of time. There is no regular pattern of periodicity. Higher polar air pressure produces a negative AO and results in cold, snowy weather in mid-latitudes. Lower polar air pressure results in a positive AO such as we currently enjoy--abnormal warmth and lack of snow. Retailers complain their snow throwers and shovels are going unsold this winter, but many municipalities have saved tens of thousands of dollars on costs for road salting.

Researching the literature on the vagaries of the weather, one comes away with a sense of wonder concerning the complexity of interrelated factors affecting local and global weather, both short term and long term. Doxological statements exulting in the Creator’s mastery over this planet’s meteorological phenomena are found in Job 37-38. In our day its vivid descriptions are matched by knowledge discoveries not previously accessible.

The interrelated effects of complex air and sea circulation together with variable amounts of open sea from season to season have replaced some of the speculation that global warming (or cooling) is responsible for the variety of weather conditions. Stated simply, our globe is an exceedingly finely tuned, intricate system. The variety of weather conditions humans experience may be regarded as a gift from God.

Long ago the ancient writer of the Book of Job described our weather's range of wonders: You are sweltering in your clothes (37:17); He makes the skies reflect the heat like a giant mirror (37:18); Driving winds bring the cold (37:9); (He makes) the treasuries of the snow (38:22); Have you seen where hail is made and stored? (38:22); (He) sends the rain that satisfies the parched ground (38:27); Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? (38:25) God controls the storm and causes lightning to flash forth (37:15) Where does the dew come from? (38:28); Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? (38:29); God’s breath sends the ice, freezing wide expanses of water (37:9).

“Nice day we’re having!” does not begin to tell the breathtaking story of our weather.