Climate contradiction: Less snow, more blizzards

Feb 18, 2013 by Seth Borenstein
In this Jan. 5, 2012 file photo, man-made snow coats a ski run next to barren ground under a chairlift at Shawnee Peak ski area in Bridgton, Maine. Scientists point to both scant recent snowfall in parts of the country and this month's whopper of a Northeast blizzard as potential global warming signs. It may seem like a contradiction, but the explanation lies in atmospheric physics. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

(AP)—With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the U.S. Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit.

Then, when a whopper of a blizzard smacked the Northeast with more than 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow in some places earlier this month, some of the same people again blamed global warming.

How can that be? It's been a joke among skeptics, pointing to what seems to be a brazen contradiction.

But the answer lies in atmospheric physics. A warmer atmosphere can hold, and dump, more moisture, snow experts say. And two soon-to-be-published studies demonstrate how there can be more giant blizzards yet less snow overall each year. Projections are that it's likely to continue with man-made global warming.

Consider:

— The United States has been hit by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading government and university . This fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation—both rain and snow—in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the .

— Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the last 45 years.

— And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot (.3 meters) in the next 50 years. The study's author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 and 70 percent by the end of the century.

"Shorter snow season, less snow overall, but the occasional knockout punch," Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said. "That's the new world we live in."

Ten climate scientists say the idea of less snow and more blizzards makes sense: A warmer world is likely to decrease the overall amount of snow falling each year and shrink the snow season. But when it is cold enough for a snowstorm to hit, the slightly warmer air is often carrying more moisture, producing potentially historic blizzards.

"Strong snowstorms thrive on the ragged edge of temperature—warm enough for the air to hold lots of moisture, meaning lots of precipitation, but just cold enough for it to fall as snow," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "Increasingly, it seems that we're on that ragged edge."

Scientists won't blame a specific event or even a specific seasonal change on global warming without doing intricate and time-consuming studies. And they say they are just now getting a better picture of the complex intersection of man-made climate change and extreme snowfall.

But when Serreze, Oppenheimer and others look at the last few years of less snow overall, punctuated by big storms, they say this is what they are expecting in the future.

"It fits the pattern that we expect to unfold," Oppenheimer said.

The world is warming, so precipitation that would normally fall as snow in the future will likely fall as rain once it gets above the freezing point, said Princeton researcher Sarah Kapnick.

Her study used new computer models to simulate the climate in 60 to 100 years as carbon dioxide levels soar. She found large reductions in snowfall throughout much of the world, especially parts of Canada and the Andes Mountains in South America. In the United States, her models predict about a 50 percent or more drop in annual snowfall amounts along a giant swath of the nation from Maine to Texas and the Pacific Northwest and California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

This is especially important out West, where large snowcaps are natural reservoirs for a region's water supply, Kapnick said. And already in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest and in much of California, the amount of snow still around on April 1 has been declining so that it's down about 20 percent compared to 80 years ago, said Philip Mote, who heads a climate change institute at Oregon State University.

Kapnick says it is snowing about as much as ever in the heart of winter, such as February. But the snow season is getting much shorter, especially in spring and in the northernmost areas, said Rutgers' David Robinson, a co-author of the study on that will be published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

The Rutgers snow lab says this January saw the sixth-widest snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; the United States had an above average snow cover for the last few months. But that's a misleading statistic, Robinson said, because even though more ground is covered by snow, it's covered by less .

And when those big storms finally hit, there is more than just added moisture in the air, there's extra moisture coming from the warm ocean, Robinson and Oppenheimer said. And the air is full of energy and unstable, allowing storms to lift yet more moisture up to colder levels. That generates more intense rates of snowfall, Robinson said.

"If you can tap that moisture and you have that fortuitous collision of moist air and below freezing temperatures, you can pop some big storms," Robinson said.

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User comments : 14

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verkle
2.3 / 5 (18) Feb 18, 2013
When "scientists" continue to point to normal variations in weather and call them a result of global warming, they are just getting less credible and believable. This is what Al tried, and failed miserably.
ValeriaT
2.8 / 5 (9) Feb 18, 2013
It's just trivial physics, my dear Watson. The heating of atmosphere has similar effect like the heating of layer of fluid inside of flat vessel. While the cold fluid circulates slowly in form of single convective cell, the hot fluid will circulate turbulently in many convective cells. The heating of atmosphere poisons the slow but steady transport of water from oceans into inland areas, while it leads into its precipitation across much smaller coastal areas (Northeast, Alaska) in thicker layer and during shorter time periods. Of course, from perspective of human civilization it's unhealthy situation, despite it may not lead into lower average precipitation from global perspective. The total amount of water condensed above ground remains roughly the same, but its condensation will be less regular, uniform and predictable.
ValeriaT
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 18, 2013
This air above inland areas remains more dry in average, which leads into bias into statistics of atmospheric precipitations. The rain condensed will evaporate soon before it can reach the underground - but the fast evaporation of water collected in meteorologic stations remains prohibited with their construction. As the result, the global statistics of water precipitation becomes biased, because the inland areas suffer with wider droughts, than it corresponds the results of meteorologic stations. The contamination of aerosols doesn't help the situation much, because many tiny resulting droplets of water condensing at smog nuclei are too tiny for being able to condense and fall down as a rain. From this reason I don't support the attempts to reduce global warming with releasing of sulphate aerosols, as it will make the hydrological situation even worse.
MandoZink
4 / 5 (12) Feb 18, 2013
When "scientists" continue to point to normal variations in weather and call them a result of global warming, they are just getting less credible and believable.

I only see a slight problem with how they worded this article. I recall those exact same descriptions of atmospheric warming effects from a couple of decades ago. They should have emphasized that this type of weather shift is now happening just as had been predicted by climatologists many years back.

I am old enough to see there has been an accumulative trend of upwardly dynamic weather.
borc
3.9 / 5 (11) Feb 18, 2013
When "scientists" continue to point to normal variations in weather and call them a result of global warming, they are just getting less credible and believable. This is what Al tried, and failed miserably.


Curious. What natural cycles are you referring to? Please respond with specific examples that are backed up with both logic and observational repeatable peer reviewed evidence.

Cheers, Ben.
Dug
2.2 / 5 (11) Feb 18, 2013
"A warmer atmosphere can hold, and dump, more moisture, snow experts say." Not really, the amount of moisture the atmosphere carries is precisely tied to the specific temperature. For snow it is within very finite ranges of temperatures. If you're saying that we get more snow because only the upper end of the snow/temp range is going to be more common - perhaps that could be true, but at the same time the greater energy in warmer systems - moves them faster lessening snow fall per unit area from such systems. This seems a case of trying to make a case using only partial data scenarios.
ubavontuba
2.2 / 5 (13) Feb 19, 2013
Climate contradiction: Less snow, more blizzards

With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the U.S. Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit.
It's funny they say this while Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent is breaking records:

"The Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent (SCE) during December 2012 was much above average. ...the largest December SCE on record for the hemisphere."

http://www.ncdc.n.../2012/12

deepsand
2.1 / 5 (14) Feb 19, 2013
Climate contradiction: Less snow, more blizzards

With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the U.S. Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit.
It's funny they say this while Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent is breaking records:

"The Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent (SCE) during December 2012 was much above average. ...the largest December SCE on record for the hemisphere."

http://www.ncdc.n.../2012/12


Not nearly so funny as the scat that you prolifically excrete here.
VendicarE
2.8 / 5 (11) Feb 19, 2013
One again UbVonTard just can't seem to figure out the difference between weather a single month December and climate, 30 years of global weather.

"The Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent (SCE) during December 2012 was much above average" - UbVonTard

VonTard is growing dumber and dumber with each passing day.

It is mentally diseased.
runrig
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2013
It's funny they say this while Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent is breaking records:

"The Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent (SCE) during December 2012 was much above average. ...the largest December SCE on record for the hemisphere."

http://www.ncdc.n.../2012/12


From the above article ...
"The Rutgers snow lab says this January saw the sixth-widest snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; the United States had an above average snow cover for the last few months. But that's a misleading statistic, ... because even though more ground is covered by snow, it's covered by less snow."

Also, more snowcover doesn't equate to colder ...
"Northern Hemisphere (Dec 2012): 0.14 C (about 0.25 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December."
http://wattsupwit...2012.png
Maggnus
3 / 5 (10) Feb 19, 2013
Uba had these exact same comments made to him on the last article he posted this Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent on.

He ignores what has already been said, and reposts the same comment verbatim in another article. That's called a misrepresentation, which is a dishonest attempt to mislead.

In other words, a lie.

I predict he will repost the same lie verbatim in yet another article.

PS: IPCC Report, 1990:
-the projected climate changes suggest a decreased duration of snow cover.
-The areal extent of seasonal snow cover is also highly variable (Fohn, 1989 )changing continually during a particular season and from one year to the next.
-In those areas where temperatures are projected to remain below or at freezing and where winters are expected to be warmer but wetter, the snow pack will increase
-Changes in the duration and area covered by snow could, therefore, have significant impact on local, regional and global climates
gregor1
2 / 5 (8) Feb 19, 2013
There's a great rebuttal of this paper here
http://wattsupwit...-claims/
DarkWingDuck
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 19, 2013
It has to do with the now expanding thermosphere. It's trending the AO more negative (cooling notherner latitudes) and sucking up water.

Whereas the last 40-50 years while the thermosphere was contracting, it dumped enough water from the atmoshpere to account for 1/8 the rise in sea level rise and trended the AO positive (warming).
runrig
3 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2013
There's a great rebuttal of this paper here
http://wattsupwit...-claims/


That critique entirely misses the point ( meteorologist or not ). We are not talking surface temperatures here. It's upper air temperatures. The mass of air at cloud height holds the moisture and the clash of warm/moist air against the cold continental is the contrast that drives the cyclonic development ( well a major one excluding vorticity and WAA ). The US has a unique mix of both air masses down its NE. To my mind it would be v difficult to discriminate cold/warm winters and low/high snowfall as a dump could easily be followed by a deep cold plunge behind ( several times ). The dump accentuated by the higher warm/moisture overriding the storm before it pulls away. I admit certain parts of this paper are questionable but the fact remains that a warmer world will lead to more snowfall at the EDGES of cold air-masses.