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Curiosities: Is global warming evident in temperature records and warming winters?

April 11, 2011

Indeed, and winter is actually warming faster than summer in Wisconsin, says Ankur Desai, an assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “The annual average temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty consist with global trends, but what is different in Wisconsin is the strong increase in winter temperatures, of about 2.5 degrees in winter, and almost 4 degrees in the Northwest.”

Extremely cold days are becoming less frequent, Desai adds: “The number of days below zero has decreased statewide; nighttime lows are not as low as they used to be. This winter, the Weather Service in Milwaukee reported there had been a record 723 days — virtually two years — since the last below-zero day. Even though Milwaukee does not get below-zero as much as Madison, this is still a pretty incredible stretch.”

Computer models project that by 2050, Madison will have 12 fewer below-zero days than it did in 1980.

Desai admits that it’s hard to attribute warming to any single cause, “but the trends in Wisconsin are very similar to warming globally, and the International Panel on Climate Change notes with high probability that the warming we have observed is due to burning fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect. Wisconsin may be seeing some warming ahead of schedule, because we are not buffered by oceans, which take longer to heat up.”