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Global warming doesn't mean blizzards are going away - in fact, warmer air and water can help add fuel to extreme winter storms.

We'll walk through the science in a minute, but first, let's be honest: It's not easy to talk climate change in winter. You might be out shoveling and hear a neighbor joke, "So much for global warming, huh?" or see a Facebook post from that conservative cousin taunting, "Ha, where's your global warming now?"

If you're feeling bold enough to poke back, science is on your side.

Tremont Street and the Boston Common in a blizzardEven a quick, friendly reply will do the trick just fine. "If this forecast's right, more than half of the biggest snowstorms on record at Logan will have come just since 1994 - something's going on, don't you think?"

It's part of a broader trend - fewer routine snowstorms, more monsters. The National Wildlife Federation reports climate change is bringing more oddball winter weather:

Global warming is bringing a clear trend toward heavier precipitation events for the simple reason that warmer air can hold more water. Even with a greater fraction of precipitation falling as rain, many areas are still seeing big and intense snowstorms, especially in the upper Midwest and Northeast, where temperatures typically remain below freezing in winter. At the same time, global warming is shifting storm tracks northward. The last few years have brought several unusually heavy snowstorms as warmer and moister air over southern states has penetrated further north, colliding with bitter cold air masses.
Cold and snow don't have a direct relationship - it's not like the colder it gets, the more snow we get. Bitterly cold air can't hold much moisture - if anything, you get tiny snowflakes. (Fun fact: Antarctica is a desert, with the South Pole getting under 4" of precipitation annually.) There's a sweet spot right around the freezing mark for maximum snow (today's forecast high in Boston: 34).

But warmer air is only one part of the equation - warm water adds fuel to monster storms. Even a recent cold snap has only brought ocean temperatures down to normal in many spots across New England, with water temperatures still well above average off Portland, ME, Newport, RI and New London, CT.

Some of the heaviest snowstorms in America in recent years have come not because it was cold but because it wasn't nearly cold enough to freeze the Great Lakes, meaning cold air could pick up huge amounts of moisture from the warmer water. A February 2007 10-day lake-effect snowstorm totaled of over 10 feet of snow in western New York state.

More and more scientific evidence is connecting these types of extreme precipitation events to climate change:

While polls show Americans are connecting the dots between global warming and extreme weather, local television viewers will get little help understanding the climate science during the hours of coverage on local stations. Most Boston TV weathermen know that 97% of climate scientists agree the Earth is warming, man-made carbon pollution is to blame, and disastrous weather extremes become the norm, but few say so in their broadcasts, with WPRI's TJ Del Santo being a notable exception. Meanwhile, colleagues who inexplicably deny the science consensus like NECN's Tim Kelley and WLNE's Herb Stevens are happy to say so publicly.

Watch Dr. Amanda Staudt, climate scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, explain how global warming is influencing winter weather:

Cross-posted from Blue Mass Group

Originally posted to TheGreenMiles on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 08:29 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good synopsis of the link between (5+ / 0-)

    increased extreme weather events and AGW, especially the size of the snowflakes in extremely cold weather.

  •  Yep; I remember 2/07. Yet, ironically,.... (6+ / 0-)

    the most prominent local television weather guy was a global warming denier, endlessly repeating that "there's no proof human activity is responsible" and "it's likely just natural cyclic variation".

    Last summer was the hottest on record in our area, with a confirmed temperature over 100° here in rural Western NY. The weather guy hasn't been pitching his denialism much since then. Even here in our very red rural area, people are starting to get it.

  •  Unusual winter weather seems to be the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Most Awesome Nana

    "Heads I win, tails you lose." phenomena for both AGW advocates and skeptics.

  •  Tipped, rec'd and hotlisted. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheGreenMiles, WearyIdealist

    Clear and concise; good links.

    Thank you.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 11:45:15 AM PST

  •  Good but one thing really bugs me (0+ / 0-)
    Global warming is bringing a clear trend toward heavier precipitation events for the simple reason that warmer air can hold more water.
    The heaviest snowfall happens around the freezing point of water. The vapor pressure of water at 0 C has not changed with global warming. Water vapor mixes with the other gases is air, so it's pretty confusing when you say that air "holds" water. Air doesn't hold water. Water vapor has properties that are a function of the physical chemistry of the H2O molecule, not the oxygen and nitrogen gas around it.

    Your links and scholarship are excellent but you picked up that one explanation that confuses people, IMO.

    Here's how I tired to explain the very heavy snow.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 12:02:26 PM PST

  •  Climate Change, not Global Warming (0+ / 0-)

    Climate change due to increased atmospheric CO2 has various components.

    The first and most predictable is Global Warming.

    Another is that weather systems change.

    What happens to the heat that enters the Earth's surface from the Sun is that it is re-radiatged. Some of it where it enters, but much of it from other locations. (That's one reason why the temperature on the Earth's surface is more uniform than the temperature on the surface of the moon.)

    With increased CO2, reradiation from any particular location at any particular temperature is less. So the heat is moved on to another location more often. One of the major ways that heat is moved is by evaporation at one point, the vapor being moved along with the air, and condensation at another point -- usually not at the surface.

    That is the explanation for all precipitation, but when the pattern is changed, as happens when the  re-radiatrion is delayed and  must occur after more steps, the precipitation follows a different pattern than previously.

    So, the locals see either unusual droughts or unusual rains or unusual snows -- or them coming in unusual seasons. Over the global scope, what you have is the same amount of preciitation as before, it's just comnig in unusual places.

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