Graph explaining how greenhouse gas pollution intensifies precipitation events, including snow storms, from Trenberth et al., 1999.
“Snowmageddon.” “Snowpocalypse.” “SnOMG.” These popular depictions of the record snowstorms that have crippled the Mid-Atlantic region demonstrate that the American public knows the weather is disastrously out of control. Instead of galvanizing Congress to take action to stop the manmade disruption of our climate, these storms are being used by Washington pundits to excuse inaction. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the chair of the Senate energy committee, is turning to these killer storms to justify his resistance to passing strong climate legislation, telling the Hill’s Alexander Bolton that “the blizzards that have shut down Congress have made it more difficult to argue that global warming is an imminent danger”:
It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments. People see the world around them and they extrapolate. I think that it’s hard to see an economy-wide cap-and-trade [proposal] of the type that passed the House could prevail.
It’s bizarre that Bingaman can’t make the argument that killer weather is one of the most significant consequences of heating up the climate. Global warming deniers may repeat the fatuous argument that killer blizzards disprove global warming ad infinitum, but it doesn’t make their argument more compelling. Bingaman’s concession to anti-science ideology is suspiciously convenient, as he has been open to dropping comprehensive climate legislation in favor of his committee’s energy-only package.
In case Sen. Bingaman is interested in convincing his colleagues of the very real threat of killer weather fueled by global warming, he can start with the findings of Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States (Chagnon et al., 2006), which describes how snowstorms and climate warming are strongly correlated in the United States:
Results for the November–December period showed that most of the United States had experienced 61%– 80% of the storms in warmer-than-normal years. Assessment of the January–February temperature conditions again showed that most of the United States had 71%–80% of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years. In the March–April season 61%–80% of all snowstorms in the central and southern United States had occurred in warmer-than-normal years. The relationship of storm incidence to precipitation in all three 2-month periods of the cold season showed that 61%– 85% of all storms occurred in wetter-than-normal years. Thus, these comparative results reveal that a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more snowstorms than in 1901–2000. Agee (1991) found that long-term warming trends in the United States were associated with increasing cyclonic activity in North America, further indicating that a warmer future climate will generate more winter storms.
Now, following the warmest January on record, Washington DC has received record snowfall, breaking a record that stood for more than a century. “As of 2 PM today, with the 9.8 inch two-day snowfall total at National Airport, the seasonal snowfall total in Washington DC stands at 54.9 inches,” the National Weather Service reports. “This would break the previous all-time seasonal snowfall record for Washington DC of 54.4 inches set in the winter of 1898-99.”