Snowfalls a Thing of the Past?! The Dangers of Climate Prophecy

Image credit: magnusfranklin, used under Creative Commons license.

When I wrote about skiers mourning the loss of snow as climate change hits home, a TreeHugger colleague reminded me—in no uncertain terms—that weather is not the same as climate, and that assigning any particular weather phenomenon to climate change is a dangerous and unnecessary game. I was perusing the latest headlines online when I was reminded of just why this is so. You see snow, I was told, is now "a thing of the past."10-Year-Old Article Revived by Climate Skeptics
With record snowstorms causing stadiums to collapse and travel regularly grinding to a halt across the Globe this winter, it was certainly strange to read a headline in the "most popular articles" section at the Independent newspaper declaring that snowfalls are now just a thing of the past. Strange, that is, until I realized that the article dated back to March 2000, and was being pushed back to prominence by a sudden surge of popularity on Twitter, Facebook and a whole host of climate skeptic blogs that were seizing on it as yet more proof that the whole idea of global climate change was a gigantic socialist conspiracy lead by Mr Al Gore and his dastardly comrades.

It's tempting, of course, to note yet again that heavy snowfall and climate change are by no means incompatible. In fact, warmer global temperatures have long been predicted to cause heavier, more intense snowfall when it does come. But that is beside the point—because in this instance the skeptics appear to have a point.

Scientists Making Exaggerated, Incorrect Claims
The fact is that the article, written by Charles Onians, includes quotes from prominent climate scientists including Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, and David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, who argued that British children would soon have to learn about snow from the internet or history books.

Media Pressure Encourages Inaccuracy?
From my non-expert understanding of climate science (like the skeptic Delingpole, I am "an interpreter of interpretations"), I have a hard time understanding what these researchers were thinking when they spoke to Onians. I suspect this is, in part at least, a case of researchers offering overly simplified media-friendly soundbites, and feeling the pressure to put their research into human terms we can all understand.

But this is clearly a dangerous path to follow. Whether snowfall really will disappear from certain regions, or simply become rarer and more intense, is something that only time will tell. But trying to tie our experience of specific weather phenomena to climate change is a dangerous and self-defeating effort. You may win attention in the short run, but you can be pretty sure that it'll come back to bite you when the wind changes.

Dr Viner can, at least, take some comfort in the fact that one of his predictions was not entirely incorrect. With heavy snowfall returning from time to time, he said, "we're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time."

The folks in Britain will most likely agree with that. Even if they now have a harder time believing that climate change was to blame.

More on Weather vs Climate
Climate Change Hits Home: Snowboarders and Skiers Mourn Loss of Winter
Winter Olympics Have Too Much Green and Some Snow
Cold Snap vs Climate Change - the Must See Video
Finally, a Rebuttal of "Snow Means No Climate Change" Nonsense

Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Science | United Kingdom