Big snowstorms will still occur in Northern Hemisphere following global warming, study finds

Aug 27, 2014 by Jennifer Chu
Coated in ice, power and telephone lines sag and often break, resulting in power outages. Credit: Public Domain

If ever there were a silver lining to global warming, it might be the prospect of milder winters. After all, it stands to reason that a warmer climate would generate less snow.

But a new MIT study suggests that you shouldn't put your shovels away just yet. While most areas in the Northern Hemisphere will likely experience less throughout a season, the study concludes that extreme snow events will still occur, even in a future with significant warming. That means that, for example, places like Boston may see less snowy winters overall, punctuated in some years by blizzards that drop a foot or two of snow.

"Many studies have looked at average snowfall over a season in climate models, but there's less known about these very heavy snowfalls," says study author Paul O'Gorman, an associate professor in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. "In some regions, it is possible for average snowfall to decrease, but the snowfall extremes actually intensify."

O'Gorman studied daily snowfall across the Northern Hemisphere using 20 different climate models, each of which projected over a 100-year period, given certain levels of greenhouse gas emissions. He looked at both average seasonal snowfall and extreme snowfall events under current climate conditions, and also following projected future warming.

Not surprisingly, O'Gorman found that under relatively high warming scenarios, low-elevation regions with winter temperatures initially just below freezing experienced about a 65 percent reduction in average winter snowfall. However, in these same regions, the heaviest snowstorms became only 8 percent less intense. In some higher-latitude regions, extreme snow events became more intense, depositing 10 percent more snow, even under scenarios of relatively high global warming.

"You might expect with a warmer climate there should be major changes in snowfall in general," O'Gorman says. "But that seems to be true to a greater extent for average snowfall than for the intensities of the heaviest snowfall events."

O'Gorman has published the results of his study this week in the journal Nature.

Daily snowfall

For the most part, researchers have only been able to analyze snowfall on a seasonal scale, estimating a winter's average snow amounts with climate change. Such analyses, while useful, only paint a broad picture of snowfall's response to global warming, and may miss specific events, like a large blizzard that may occur over a day or two.

Daily snowfall in a range of climate model simulations has recently been made available through the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project—a growing archive of climate modeling output, including snowfall, that modeling centers and researchers around the world contribute to and analyze.

O'Gorman analyzed daily snow amounts from simulations with 20 different climate models in the archive. Each model simulated a "control climate," for the years 1981 to 2000, as well as a "warm climate," for the years 2081 to 2100, assuming relatively high emissions of greenhouse gases.

Over this 100-year period, O'Gorman found that average snowfall decreased substantially in many Northern Hemisphere regions in warm-climate scenarios compared with the milder control climates, but that snowfall amounts in the largest snowstorms did not decrease to the same extent.

He warned, however, that changes in snowfall extremes can be larger in regions with little snowfall to begin with, such as the southwestern United States. He also notes that while this study focuses on percentage changes in the amount of snowfall in extreme snowfall events, there can be larger changes in the frequency of such events.

From the simulations, O'Gorman found that it takes greater climate warming to reduce the intensity of extreme snowstorms than to reduce average seasonal snowfall. Specifically, a region would experience less seasonal snow if average winter temperatures were initially above minus 14 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit). But the heaviest snowstorms would become less intense only above minus 9 C (16 F).

A sweet spot for extreme snowfall

What's more, O'Gorman found that there's a narrow daily temperature range, just below the freezing point, in which extreme snow events tend to occur—a sweet spot that does not change with . This is in contrast to average snow events, which may occur over a broader temperature range.

"People may know the expression, 'It's too cold to snow'—if it's very cold, there is too little water vapor in the air to support a very heavy snowfall, and if it's too warm, most of the precipitation will fall as rain," O'Gorman says. "Snowfall extremes still occur in the same narrow temperature range with climate change, and so they respond differently to change compared to rainfall extremes or average snowfall."

Explore further: How does snow affect the amount of water in rivers?

More information: Contrasting responses of mean and extreme snowfall to climate change, Nature, dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13625

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User comments : 25

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LariAnn
3.4 / 5 (10) Aug 27, 2014
Makes sense - at colder air temps, less water can be held as vapor (that is what is meant by "relative humidity"), so at colder air temps, less snow can fall. However, the "sweet spot" doesn't change no matter what the AVERAGE global temperature or even AVERAGE local temperature is, so big snows can happen even under warming scenarios. Think about it like this - temps are above freezing for more days during the year, but when the temps hit the sweet spot, there is much more moisture in the air to precipitate out so snowfall is more extreme. Extreme snow does not mean extreme cold as the most intense snowfall comes at the temps below but closer to freezing, not at extremes below freezing (like minus temps).
antigoracle
2.4 / 5 (14) Aug 27, 2014
So, we will still have snow after all, and weather is going to be... well..like...weather.
I wonder how many millions that bombshell cost.
drloko
2.5 / 5 (11) Aug 27, 2014
So if we experience significant warming we can expect weather to be the same? This must be a misplaced article from the Onion.
verkle
1 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2014
Who said there would be no more big snowstorms? Nobody. So the title is meaningless. It is a strawman.

antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (13) Aug 28, 2014
So, we will still have snow after all, and weather is going to be... well..like...weather.
I wonder how many millions that bombshell cost.

Did you even read past the second word in the headline? Apparently not. Or apparently your brain was already overloaded by that point - so the rest didn't register.

Try reading the article (again). Comprehesion prevents stupid posts.
Eddy Courant
2 / 5 (12) Aug 28, 2014
Scientists discover natural variability and retire gloom and doom scenarios. Oh those scientists! Always the last to know.
MR166
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 28, 2014
It seems that after reading this years prediction in "The Old Farmers Almanac" they decided that they had better cover their ass.
Sean_W
3 / 5 (10) Aug 28, 2014
Fourteen years ago, Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, said that:
"Children just aren't going to know what snow is"
and that large snowfalls were *now* (March 2000) a thing of the past so that when they rarely did happen, cities would be completely unprepared.

http://www.indepe...017.html

The thing about extreme predictions is that when someone makes them--and gets them wrong-- you should put less confidence in their future predictions. Many climatologist have made wild predictions about rising sea levels and other consequences which were demonstrably wrong yet we are called "anti-science" for doubting their continued rescheduling of apocalyptic milestones.

Now, every new "study" claims that the theory of AGW predicts what is happening now, it's just that no one knew it predicted cold winters and normal storm frequencies until it happens
Sean_W
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 28, 2014
Who said there would be no more big snowstorms? Nobody. So the title is meaningless. It is a strawman.



"Our children will not know what snow is"
http://www.indepe...017.html
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (13) Aug 28, 2014
Who said there would be no more big snowstorms? Nobody. So the title is meaningless.

Reading the posts there are obviously some who don't get that. They think that global warming by x degrees will just mean that every place on the globe will be exactly x degrees warmer (and will be the same temperature year round)...which is a disingenouous at worst and naive at best.
freethinking
2.2 / 5 (13) Aug 28, 2014
Farmers Almanac says this year will be a particularly harsh winter, given that they are more accurate than the Global Warming Cult, I give them more weight

Wouldn't it save a lot of time and money if some Global Warming Cultist just ask the Farmers Almanac people to predict the weather in a 100 years? Sorry my bad, if they did, there would be no more grant money, no more vacations (errrr conferences) at exotic resorts, no more easy money for Al Gore and the Democratic party, no more paybacks from donors to the democrats by corrupt public money taking green companies
runrig
3.9 / 5 (11) Aug 28, 2014
Farmers Almanac says this year will be a particularly harsh winter, given that they are more accurate than the Global Warming Cult, I give them more weight

Wouldn't it save a lot of time and money if some Global Warming Cultist just ask the Farmers Almanac people to predict the weather in a 100 years? Sorry my bad, if they did, there would be no more grant money, no more vacations (errrr conferences) at exotic resorts, no more easy money for Al Gore and the Democratic party, no more paybacks from donors to the democrats by corrupt public money taking green companies

And you call yourself "freethinking"?
Farmer's Almanac more accurate. FFS
A triumph of bias over common sense and critical observation I feel.
Similar to comments I used to get - vis "you always get it wrong".
Err no .... That's just as impossible as always getting it correct.
As I said, critical thinking - something that's in scarce supply amongst some on here.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (12) Aug 28, 2014
Oh, poor runrig. You got to admire him though, hanging on to that sinking ship.
So, tell us runrig, which of the AGW Cult's prophesies of doom and gloom has come true?
thermodynamics
3.9 / 5 (11) Aug 28, 2014
AntiEm said:
Oh, poor runrig. You got to admire him though, hanging on to that sinking ship.
So, tell us runrig, which of the AGW Cult's prophesies of doom and gloom has come true?


Dupe, you are talking about predictions for 2100. Let me know when we get there.

What is correct? The total enthalpy gain by the planet based on increases in retained radiation.

Have we gone up more that 2C? No, but it is not 2100.

Have the oceans risen more than 20 cm? No, but it is not 2100.

Why don't you tell us what you think are wrong predictions?
antigoracle
2.5 / 5 (11) Aug 28, 2014
Oh poor runrig and his sidekick thermo, they have to wait till 2100 for their AGW doom and gloom. Well, keep the faith fellas, it's going to be a longer wait than that.
http://www.telegr...sts.html
http://notrickszo...ng-hold/
thermodynamics
3.7 / 5 (12) Aug 28, 2014
AntiEm said:
Oh poor runrig and his sidekick thermo, they have to wait till 2100 for their AGW doom and gloom. Well, keep the faith fellas, it's going to be a longer wait than that.
http://www.telegr...sts.html


So, Anti, are you just trying to deflect the question? What doom and gloom are any peer reviewed papers expecting in the short-term?

Instead, they are looking 50 to 100 years down the road.

Can you answer the simple question of what gloom and doom?
supamark23
3.8 / 5 (10) Aug 28, 2014
Oh poor runrig and his sidekick thermo, they have to wait till 2100 for their AGW doom and gloom. Well, keep the faith fellas, it's going to be a longer wait than that.
http://www.telegr...sts.html


what's the matter, run out of neighborhood kids to bugger? You must hate it when they go back to school...
runrig
4 / 5 (12) Aug 28, 2014
Oh poor runrig and his sidekick thermo, they have to wait till 2100 for their AGW doom and gloom. Well, keep the faith fellas, it's going to be a longer wait than that.
....l


The Telegraph is a right-wing newspaper with an anti-AGW stance.
NoTricks is the site that has promoted the "goes against 2nd law of thermodynamics" bollocks and therefore laughably stupid.

Do try and give us some unbiased science eh?
Not opinion pieces and not tidbits from laughably stupid denier Blogs.
You wont find any that's credible, that hasn't been considered by the climate science community and if is vaguely credible as a possible contributory factor in natural cycles then investigations will be ongoing (ie cloud nucleation at CERN).
The fact remains - just does - that the energy imbalance present on Earth is caused by a basic more in than leaving equation. What leaves is IR ... that CO2 back-radiates.
OK mr goldfish? I look forward to your next circuit of the bowl.
Bye.
runrig
3.9 / 5 (11) Aug 28, 2014


So, Anti, are you just trying to deflect the question? What doom and gloom are any peer reviewed papers expecting in the short-term?

Instead, they are looking 50 to 100 years down the road.

Can you answer the simple question of what gloom and doom?


Thermo:

They twist eveything, and cannot conceive of a forecast that is way down the road. They expect Hurricanes to ramp up immediately, irrespective of the other necessary drivers being absent. They expect the world to warm uniformly everywhere, along a constant upslope, and further expect GCM's to follow said impossible happening exactly. All forecasts of *doom/gloom* to a critical mind are obviously way ahead in the future.
I sometimes wonder if they really believe the bollocks they spout on here. Don't know which is sadest - that possibility or the other, where they know they're being myopic (kindly) and are merely spamming for their ideological peers
antigoracle
2.2 / 5 (10) Aug 28, 2014
Do try and give us some unbiased science eh?

Hey runrig, I could not find any related to climate "science", but I did find this.
http://www.forbes...-debate/
mooster75
4 / 5 (12) Aug 28, 2014
[I could not find any related to climate "science"...

Don't worry about it; you wouldn't recognize science if you did find it.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (8) Aug 28, 2014
Thanks mooster, for the insight into the lack of function of a lone neuron, now pass it on to the next in line in your peanut gallery.
Porgie
2.7 / 5 (7) Aug 29, 2014
HAHAHAHAH this is really getting pathetic. Trying to soften the blow that the planet temperatures are going down. This is so sad that the democrat party latches on to this to limit growth and kill jobs. California puts more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the coal plants combined for 5 years with a single fire. The American farmer puts 57 times more NOX into the atmosphere than all the Chemical and power plants combined (ALL) so if you mist whine about climate change do something about what is causing it. Liberals are shameful.
freethinking
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 29, 2014
I would like to know how many Paid Progressive Government Trolls (PPGT)are on this site?

My guess quite a few given the huge increase in Government spending.
thermodynamics
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2014
Porky said:
HAHAHAHAH this is really getting pathetic. Trying to soften the blow that the planet temperatures are going down. This is so sad that the democrat party latches on to this to limit growth and kill jobs. California puts more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the coal plants combined for 5 years with a single fire. The American farmer puts 57 times more NOX into the atmosphere than all the Chemical and power plants combined (ALL) so if you mist whine about climate change do something about what is causing it. Liberals are shameful.


The NOx is a problem. It is an actual increase by humans.

However, if you look at the studies on fires and CO2, they note that, since the forests tend to grow back and reabsorb CO2 from the air the pulse of CO2 from them is temporary. Particularly if you look at time, over which, we are steadily increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

Please show any source that shows the CO2 from fires as anything other than transient.

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