Freak Winter Weather: Fluke or Fuel in Warming Debate?

March 18, 2008

Freak winter weather has struck almost every area of the Northern Hemisphere with bizarre extremes in recent months.

Snow fell on usually sweltering Baghdad and paralyzed central China, while the season barely registered in Scandinavia, where some countries have seen the warmest winter in centuries.

The unusual season seems to be the result of a "perfect storm" of weather patterns occurring at once, experts say.

But what does this mean for the debate about global warming?

Balmy Arctic, Snowy Middle East

Meteorologists in Sweden this month reported the country's mildest winter since record-keeping began in 1756.

Neighboring Finland also registered its warmest winter on record, with average temperatures about 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) higher than average. And Arctic Norway is heading for its mildest winter since monitoring started more than a century ago.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, bluebell flowers bloomed in February for the first time, according to London's Natural History Museum. The plant usually flowers in April and May.

But elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter has been notable for its severity.

Snowstorms paralyzed central China in January. At least 60 lives were lost and some 5.8 million people were left stranded at train stations nationwide (see photos of China's blizzard).

Blizzards also hit the Middle East the same month, blanketing the region in rarely seen snow. Many residents of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, saw their first snowfall, according to reports.

Swaths of North America, meanwhile, suffered their heaviest snow since the 1960s.

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