Climate Myths: Snowfall

While we’re sweltering in the heat of summer, let’s talk about something cooler – snow! The wonderfully cold, powdery white, frozen water that occupies our holiday dreams and complicates the lives of those tasked with its management. As it turns out, the job of preparing for and responding to snow storms is becoming more difficult. The National Climate Assessment tells us that winter storms may be increasing in both frequency and intensity.[1]

A National Climate Assessment graph showing how storm frequency and intensities have differed from the long-term average. You can see that in the last 30 years or so, both intensity and frequency have been greater than the average.

 

So what does this mean for climate scientists? I thought the earth was warming, what is snow doing in this equation? Do these persistent snow storms mean that climate change is a hoax? Well no.

Before we dive in, let’s define some terms. Weather describes the short term characteristics of the earth’s temperature, humidity, wind speed, etc. Climate defines the overall trends of weather patterns. So while the climate is changing and warming, there will still be cold weather.

To clear things up if they’re still a bit foggy, I have a story! Let’s say my GPA is improving. Now, while my GPA may be going up, that doesn’t mean that I’ve never gotten a 64 on an exam (junior year, organic chemistry, we’re gonna let it go). I can get low grades, but what’s important is that on average, I get more good grades than bad ones. Low grades are like weather. My overall GPA is the climate.

Now back to the science. Among many other discoveries made regarding climate change, scientists have found that a warmer atmospheric temperature increases water evaporation rates (oceanic and otherwise). More evaporation means more water vapor in the air. As our friend Isaac Newton so eloquently put it, what goes up must come down. That water vapor has to come down somehow and it does so in the form of rain, hail, and snow.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) figure showing how global temperatures have been greater than average for approximately the last 30 years.

This increase in water vapor dumping, for lack of a better phrase, equates to more storms of greater intensity like the “bomb cyclone” of 2018 that blanketed most of the east coast with snow.

 

So what does all of this mean? Well it means that snowfall is not a reason to think that climate change doesn’t exist. In fact, increased winter storms support scientists’ models. The climate as a whole is warming, causing more extreme weather conditions, which we’re already seeing.

Researchers have found that a significant portion of the American population doesn’t believe that climate change will affect us in our lifetime. Well, you and I are experiencing its affects right now.

But who wants to end on that note?! Climate change is a present day reality, but there is still so much that we can do! For example, I recently bought a bamboo toothbrush to reduce my plastic use. It’s the little things! Carpool, don’t accept straws in restaurants, contribute to environmental organizations. You can even go a little bigger! Call your representative and tell him/her/them your thoughts on environmental policy. Do what you can and remember, keep calm and carry on, even through 5 feet of snow.

 

 

 

[1]  Hayhoe, Katharine, et al. “Changes in Storms.” National Climate Assessment, 2013, https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/changes-storms

 

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