The United States' weird January weather, summarized in a single map

January was a month of extremes for the continental United States. Pretty much everywhere east of the Rockies endured unusually cold conditions, while most regions west of the range experienced record-breaking warmth (most notably in California, where a devastating drought recently extended into its 13th month).

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According to Mashable,

The divide between East and West during January was the result of a buckle in the jet stream that rerouted Pacific storms north, into Canada, bypassing drought-ridden California, before opening the door to the Arctic refrigerator by steering upper level winds from north to south across the East.

For more, check out NOAA's National Overview for January 2014.

[NOAA via Mashable]

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DISCUSSION

(here follows a rant)

In the end, it won't matter until the things we take for granted are gone beyond any hope of recovery. You could explain it a million, billion times. You could come at it from every angle in four dimensions. You could shake it up in a soda bottle and spurt it out over every arguing face in the room. The sad truth of the matter is that until the people who don't want to see the instability in the patterns are rendered impotent from their lack of action, then there will be no acknowledgement of a need for change. Whether that means they are dead, or simply no longer have the funds and the access to derail logical positive social change, either way the majority of people must come to the conclusion that a change of our daily habits is in order if we ever hope to survive the environmental changes that will come.

To make a point: Earth has cycles of warming and cooling. The overall trend is towards warming. This will happen no matter what we do. The factors that affect these trends most on human timescales are atmospheric composition and ice-coverage. On geologic timescales, the sun plays the biggest part in our warming and cooling patterns.

We are not fully conversant in the actual chemistry of atmospheric composition and solar interaction, however we can make very accurate guesses on what will happen when certain substances are injected into the atmosphere. These models show that our pollution is causing an increase in the rate of change. This amplifies and destabilizes our "preferred" climates. While we know day-to-day weather prediction is never going to be exact, humans have had seasonal and even yearly success anticipating periods of drought, normal weather, and floods. It isn't precise, and it isn't always helpful, but there is a reason so many civilizations were very keen on having accurate calendars - they make living off the land possible. What our pollution has done is to throw that centuries-long stability into disarray. That's not to say that a supervolcano wouldn't do the same, or that an asteroid impact wouldn't cause a similar disruption, but this pollution is an element we can control. Because of this, we should be able to at least reduce the effects of what we've done by reducing our pollution levels - and finding alternative methods that do not produce atmospheric pollution. So scientists are making the statement that changes need to occur. They differ on exact dates and times, amounts, and local effects - BUT they almost all agree that a change must be made.

Our media world is a very big road-bump in this process of public information. Modern media likes sensationalism. Sensationalism sells... because media is about entertainment, and the more sensational an article, the more people consume it. The media outlets don't care about perception or believability - they only care about consumption. Therefore, Non-scientists pick out things and completely remove their context to make sensational headlines. The sad thing is, the headlines are wrong mostly - which undermines the public validity of the scientists who are trying to warn us that our actions are having a terrible effect.

Sadly, the more people try to institute a change in our activities, the harder and fiercer the nay-sayers will fight such change. Not because we are asking them to change, but because as more and more people attempt to change their way of life, it makes those unwilling to change look like idiots. If there's one thing about being in the first world, its that perception of self is greater than anything for a vast group of people. People will willingly die before changing, just because they fear the perception of others negatively affecting themselves. You can see it in their day to day lives - they are so terrified of change of that perception they will isolate themselves to avoid others seeing such change. They cover change, they alter their appearance to compensate for any perceptable difference day-to-day. They'll put on makeup to cover a blemish, even though the makeup will be more damaging in the long run - as an example. If they can't cover something up, they'll limit their interactions until they can. And they don't care about alienation of their neighbors and their communities - all they care about is that the perception of them doesn't change. 2.5 kids, a dog and a white picket fence, two cars, and a decent house. Nobody has that. Everyone in the group I'm talking about wants to be perceived that way though.

That's the real roadblock that people have to get over when dealing with climate change. Its not that there is a threat to our environment, or even that we might die because of it - no our environment has always been deadly and the threat to us from that environment is always high. No, the true problem is that far too many people are too afraid to change themselves that they'll willingly allow the pollution to continue without considering the future consequences of their actions. For most things in life, living in the moment is great. But occasionally you have to look to the future if you want to thrive. We are not going to thrive - although we will likely survive - if we don't change.

That said, since when has survival ever been enough? In the end, those who refuse to acknowledge the need for change will be marginalized and eliminated, while those willing to change will be elevated and supported. I guess the biggest sign of people waking up will come shortly after the next big economic collapse. Long-lived economies promote conservative thinking. This thinking, in turn, eventually leads to the stagnation and inflexibility of an economic structure to adapt to change. When this happens, fortunes can shift in a matter of days - even hours. With the modern economic systems, these shifts can happen in mere seconds. Economies collapse, all economies will eventually collapse - and when the current economy does collapse, that's when the changes will occur. And that will be the best moment for those who understand the threat of climate change to make a stand.

The only question is, will it make a difference? Will we be able to intercede before the environment becomes too unstable? Will we be able to slow the changes coming enough to be able to not only survive them but thrive? Too rapid a change, and much of what we know disappears and it will impose many years of unnecessary hardship. And it will be a long, difficult road to get back to those things that we now take for granted, and the changes we will have to make to ourselves and our society in order to survive... well, lets just say that there will be a lot of self-hate in the future. Remember what I said about perception... got to wonder how some people will feel about being cyborgs in order to survive what is yet to come?