Expressway: Rough winters and climate change -- any connection?

A woman endures the weather while waiting for A woman endures the weather while waiting for the bus in the snow on Jan. 21, 2014 at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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The first anniversary of the blizzard of 2013 rolls around on Saturday. That Feb. 8-9 storm dumped about 30 inches of snow in my town, Brookhaven, which drew heavy criticism when cars were stranded overnight and plows did not show up in some neighborhoods for days.

This winter certainly has been a test for Long Islanders. This week, we've again had more snow dumped on us. In January, 16 daily weather records were broken at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, according to Newsday. Eight were related to cold weather, one to a daily high temperature, four to snow and three to rainfall. The Islip records go back only to 1984, but that's still a lot of extremes.

Most memorably, we saw a wild plunge starting Jan. 6, when the temperature in Islip went from 55 degrees to 7 the next day. Wind chills were below zero. That was a taste of the "polar vortex" winds from Canada and Siberia. I thought my lungs would turn to ice as I breathed in the ultracold air. My door latches froze.

The morning of Jan. 10, I drove to a weekly business training session. With rain falling and the temperature around 32 degrees from about 9 to noon, people and cars began sliding all over. Police responded to fender benders everywhere, and in a two-hour span, Suffolk County reported 600 ambulance calls, according to newsday.com.

As I left the business meeting at 11 a.m., pedestrians were slipping on the blacktop. A woman told me her car had done two "360s." A vehicle skidded into the back of a dump truck. I waited until noon to drive, hoping rising temperatures would melt the ice. Then I drove 15 mph below the speed limit to get home safely.

On Jan. 21, Long Island got clobbered with nearly another foot of snow during the evening rush hour, and it took many motorists hours to get home. My son-in-law's usual one-hour commute took five.

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Scientists say that a single weather event or even short-term patterns are not themselves proof of climate change from global warming. It's actually the long-term patterns that matter most in evaluating climate change. But I admit wondering if some events -- especially the polar vortex and the extremes of January -- are somehow evidence of climate change. Our scientific community says increased incidences of either extreme cold or heat point to this.

NASA says the evidence of rapid climate change is compelling. A NASA news release issued Jan. 21 stated, "With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record have all occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record." NASA also pointed to sea-level rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining Arctic sea ice, extreme weather events and ocean acidification as further evidence.

I was heartened when President Barack Obama declared in his recent State of the Union address that, "Climate change is a fact." He called for urgent action "because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods."

In addition, I hope that a task force forming in the U.S. Senate to make climate change a central issue will take us closer to possibly reducing dangerous climate events affecting every person on the globe. I hope Congress will take seriously the president's initiatives to create "smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don't need it" and to invest it in green energy, such as solar and wind power.

Most climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, so I'm trying to do my small part by reducing my contribution to global warming. This means turning off lights when not in use, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and fuel-efficient cars, washing clothes with warm or cold water instead of hot, and recycling.

As far as Long Islanders surviving the rest of the winter of 2014, we'll just have to take that one weather event at a time.

Reader Patricia Schaefer lives in South Setauket.

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