Introduction to Climate Today

Introduction to Climate Today

By: Phil Arkin

Welcome to Climate Today, an occasional column/blog/discussion intended to entertain, illuminate and sometimes provoke visitors to this site.  This initial effort is meant to provide some of the background and context to posts that will follow, hopefully on something like a weekly schedule.

When Mark Baith, who leads the team responsible for the re-design of the ESSIC website asked me to do this a number of months ago, I reacted as I do to most such appealing but of the distant future (more than a month away) requests – I said “sure! Sounds like fun.”  As the weeks passed, I would often go into Mark’s office to sit and brainstorm about possible topics and ways of presenting them, always leaving encouraged that I still wanted to do something, never entirely certain what that was, and content that I still had “plenty of time”.

I was quite happy with that state of affairs – I have plenty of other deadlines to face, and having something fun to look forward to but never quite having to come to grips with it was okay by me.  However, at our last staff meeting (Mondays at 9:30 – always an invigorating start to the week), Mark announced that the coming weekend was D-day.  And therefore either I had to get something actually written, or there would be a blank space on the web site – not the best start.  As some of you may know, I tend to get to things only when faced with an imminent deadline, and so now, while Mark and his team are working to get the new site in place, I am trying to organize my thinking about this obligation.

My ambition is to find topics that will interest at least a few of the people who visit the ESSIC website.  My background is meteorology and climate science, mostly from an observational perspective, and so I expect that most topics will have something to do with climate science, or Earth System science.  I am also something of a “weather weenie”, in that I get excited about unusual or extreme weather events and especially their climatic context, and I hope I get the chance to write about such from time to time.   A number of people and groups already do things like this, and I will try not to repeat things well covered elsewhere.  Other more practical questions, such as how long to make these posts, and how (and whether) to facilitate comments and discussion, still remain to be resolved.  For now, my goal for length is 500-600 words, long enough to say something interesting but not long enough to get too boring.  My hope is that I can finish a new post each week – we’ll see how realistic that is.  For questions, comments and discussion, for now please use the comments section following this text – I am certainly eager to get feedback or questions.

I’ll close by mentioning a couple of topics that I hope to address soon.  One is whether a succinct definition of the word “climate” exists, or is possible.  A standard definition exists, of course: “The meteorological conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region.” is from  However, climate scientists might not consider this to be a complete and satisfactory definition of their subject matter – is there enough to be said for a post?  The other topic is an assessment of the performance of the winter forecasts that were issued for our area back at the beginning of December, along with some thoughts on what many of them tried to predict.