A Warming World Will Still See Severe Snowstorms - Columbia University Scientists Remind Us


photo: Woodley Wonderworks via flickr

Still think last year's heavy snows in parts of the eastern United States were a sign that the world isn't warming? A new study in Geophysical Research Letters by scientists from Columbia University's Earth Institute show that it was converging weather patterns dumping all that snow; but the researchers also pointedly comment that a warming world will still see severe storms, noting that if journalists had been based in the Arctic they might not be so smug about announcing global warming's demise.From the press statement on the study, some unusually sharp (if no doubt warranted) criticism of media handling of the unusually heavy snowfall:

While the heavy snow on the East Coast and northwest Europe dominated headlines this winter, the Great Lakes and western Canada actually saw less snow than usual--typical for an El Niño year, said Seager. Warm and dry weather in the Pacific Northwest forced the organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver to lug in snow by truck and helicopter to use on ski and snowboarding slopes. The arctic also saw warmer weather than usual, but fewer journalists were there to take notes.

"If Fox News had been based in Greenland they might have had a different story," said [study lead author Richard] Seager.

Summing up, Seager notes, "Snowy winters will happen regardless of climate change."

But back to the cause of Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia each getting more than six feet of snow last winter....

El Niño Plus North Atlantic Oscillation Combined to Deliver More Snow
The scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory analyzed 60 years of snowfall data and found that last year's anomalous winter "was caused by two colliding weather events. El Niño, the cyclic warming of the tropical Pacific, brought wet weather to the southeastern US at the same time that a strong negative phase in a pressure cycle called the North Atlantic Oscillation pushed frigid air from the Arctic down the East Coast and across northwest Europe. End result: More snow."

Warming Conditions in Arctic Linked to Heavy Snows
You could leave it there, but as Climate Progress points out--in its typical give you all the information you need and then quintuple it, citing every study done on the matter, format--it's quite possible that last year's winter weather around DC can be linked to warming conditions in the Arctic.

From a presentation by Dr James Overland of NOAA (emphasis is from Climate Progress):

"Cold and snowy winters will be the rule, rather than the exception," says Dr James Overland....

Continued rapid loss of sea ice will be an important driver of major change in the world's climate system in the years to come....

"While the emerging impact of greenhouse gases is an important factor in the changing Arctic, what was not fully recognised until now is that a combination of an unusual warm period due to natural variability, loss of sea ice reflectivity, ocean heat storage and changing wind patterns working together has disrupted the memory and stability of the Arctic climate system, resulting in greater ice loss than earlier climate models predicted," says Dr Overland.

"The exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America is connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic," he says.

Read it all at the link above; it adds some important nuance for those interested in the specific science involved.

For most people though, just remember that just because it's snowing out doesn't mean global warming isn't happening. Despite what smug and often woefully uninformed weathermen and pundits try to tell you.

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More on Global Climate Change:
Finally, Rebuttal to 'Snow Means No Global Warming' Nonsense Aired in Mainstream Media (Video)
Just Because It's Snowing Out Doesn't Mean Global Warming Is Fake, Say It With Me People
UK's Met Office Reminds Us It's Not Cold Everywhere

Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects | Winter

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