Thursday, March 16, 2017

Don't Laugh, But Is Climate Change Helping To Cause All These Epic Snowstorms?

A car in Endwell, New York after this week's
epic snowstorm 
Up here in Vermont, Burlington officially had its second largest snowstorm on record with this one that finally seems to have ended.

The total: 30.4 inches.

Records in Burlington go all the way back to 1885. So here's some interesting facts:

With this latest snowstorm added, four of the top five biggest snowstorms in Burington have occured since 2007. Exactly half of the top 20 snowstorms in Burlington have happened since 2000.

It's not just Burlington.

Binghamton, New York had its two biggest snowstorms on record this year.

Many of remember the blizzard along the East Coast from Washington to Boston in January, 2016. Boston and Maine suffered its worst snow siege in history in the winter of 2015.  Another record-sized snowstorm swept much of the East Coast in 2013.

What's going on?

Believe it or not, it could be climate change.

I know, I know. A lot of people will scoff at this. Climate change is being blamed for everything, it seems. So now something cold, like a blizzard, is part of global warming? Yeah, right.

Well, actually, probably it is right.

Here's the deal. With or without climate change, it can still easily get below freezing in the winter in the northern United States. There have always been big storms like nor'easters and there always will be, with or without climate change.

Most of the epic snowstorms in the Northeast, like the one that just ended, are caused by nor'easters, those big, windy storms that move up along the East Coast.

During nor'easters - and this one was no exception -- the storm pulls warm, moist air off the Atlantic Ocean. The warm, wet air is forced to glide up and over a wedge of cold air on the northern and western flank of the nor'easter. That moisture condenses and falls as a gush of snow into that cold air.

With climate change, the atmosphere overall is warmer, even if there are patches of cold air around due to basic meteorology. (Climate change doesn't end the physics of meteorology, it just shifts it around.

Warmer air can hold more moisture than cooler air.

Now, I'll fire a bunch of "which means" at you. Bear with me.

Remember that warm, moist air I told you about that nor'easters can pull off areas over the Atlantic Ocean? Often nowadays, due to climate change, that warm air over the ocean is hotter than it used to be. Which means it can hold more moisture than it used to.

Which means that warm, wet air that glides over the cold air more often than not wetter than it used to be decades ago. Which means the snow comes down more heavily. Which means chances are the snow with the nor'easter is more impressive than it used to be.

This doesn't always work. Sometimes, there's just not enough cold air with a nor'easter to produce much snow. It rains instead.

It's possible that snowy nor'easters will become more and more rare as the climate warms, but the ones that are snowy would end up being snowier than they used to be.

On top of all this, some scientists think that declining ice cover in the Arctic is changing weather patterns so that winter storms are more likely on the East Coast.

Research is still going on.

But as you dig out from nearly three feet of snow, you just might be experiencing the effects of climate change.

I'll close with this delightful slo-mo video of an Amtrak train showering people on a Dutchess County, New York train platform with snow after this week's big snowstorm.

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