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An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!

By Joe Romm  

"An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!"

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Everybody talks about the weather, but few read the scientific literature about it.

The anti-science crowd has been doing a killer job pushing the myth that the big recent snowstorms somehow undercut our understanding of human-caused global warming.  But aside from the fact the precipitation isn’t temperature, it turns out that the “common wisdom” the disinformers are preying on — lots of snow means we must be in a cold winter — isn’t even true.

Let ‘s look at the results of an actual, detailed study of “the relationships of the storm frequencies to seasonal temperature and precipitation conditions” for the years “1901-2000 using data from 1222 stations across the United States.”  The 2006 study, Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States (Chagnon et al., 2006) found we get more snow storms in warmer years:

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…. 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.

As Brad Johnson noted in Wonk Room:

How GHG 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 [facts]. 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.

It’d be too much to ask that Senators understand and embrace every aspect of the science — but could they at least not embrace every aspect of the anti-science?

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13 Responses to An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!

  1. David Smith says:

    I graduated highschool in the alaskan town of Bethel out in the tundra west of Anchorage. The weather was as you might expect. When the winter temp was only 20 below zero and there was no wind it felt like spring and you could go outside without zipping your coat. However, It never snowed unless the temp went up to around +32 digrees F and then it would rain or snow.

    It never snowed when it was cold.

  2. John Stevens says:

    Professor Phil Jones has done an about face and now claims no significant global warming for the last fifteen years.
    [snip]
    Now we are supposed to believe that the cooler temperatures and higher snow fall are caused by global warming. How am I supposed to argue for climate change with this? I’m at a loss and need some help.

    [JR: You are a concern troll who ain't interested in arguing for climate change, which is why most of your disinformation is blocked here. That isn't what Jones said. Nor is it what I just posted. Post your disinformation elsewhere!]

  3. B Buckner says:

    Do we get more snow cover extent in warmer years too? That is what the data say:
    http://climate.rutgers.edu/snowcover/chart_anom.php?ui_set=1&ui_region=nam&ui_month=

  4. Lizzie Petrino says:

    Climate progress artificial on permanent dustbowls around the world.

    http://climateprogress.org/2009/01/26/noaa-climate-change-irreversible-1000-years-drought-dust-bowls/

  5. WAG says:

    “It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments [facts]. 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.”

    That’s why we have representative government and not direct democracy – because it’s elected officials’ job to make policy when the issues are too complicated for the lay public to understand. He ought to read his James Madison to learn that his purpose is not to represent the will of the people, but “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

  6. Andy says:

    One needs to understand the scale climatologists and meteorologists are talking about if this discussion is to make sense. It’s pretty clear what was going on to cause the storm, but I can see where people are confused. I’ve read this question a lot “how can warmer temps result in more snow when it was colder than normal, not warmer at the time of the storms?”.

    It’s all a matter of scale. A picture describes the situation better than a thousand words in this case. The origin of these storms is the “heavy breathing” of moisture laden air from a Pacific Ocean all hot and bothered by an El Nino. A huge stream of clouds and moisture was spread across the Pacific, over Mexico (which received record heavy rains accompanied by much extreme flooding), across Texas (where the rain and gloom has been non-stop this winter) and then up the mid-Atlantic states and over DC. The precipitable water amounts (water vapor available for rain or snow) were 200% above normal. Here is a link to the satellite web page and includes a lot of images and discussion as to what occurred. The Snowocalypse or whatever originated in the balmy, tropical Pacific.

    http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/goes/blog/archives/date/2010/02/page/2

  7. Per #5, WAG,

    Hear! Hear!

  8. The trouble with Statistically Based science, and their conclusions, i.e., “The 2006 study, Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States (Chagnon et al., 2006) found we get more snow storms in warmer years: 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….”
    Is that the non-believer does not believe the data that, to them, may have been “doctored” by PhD Scientists, including, now, even, Government Scientists, which I find nearly incredible except the statistics of popular surveys indicate that is true they think that, not that data is altered.

    We need easy-to-comprehend explanations, from established principles down to tangible effects. OK, we know that, some or all, of those Principles were established by statistics; they are like the Laws of Inertia “bodies in motion tend to remain in motion….” that, somehow, as soon as we hear it, we “know” they are true, we think.
    Yes, I read about Einstein and his then unfounded idea of a variable speed of light, he seems to have been intoxicated, with oxygen, while in the forest breathing all that clean air.
    Can one say that the increased absorption of energy from the sun, i.e. Global Warming, leads to more violent weather that brings more warm air to cold regions and cold air to warm regions?
    Surely, we would say that about ocean currents and their effect on the Gulf Stream ‘conveyor belt’ effect that keeps Europe warm, but not this year.
    How else can we explain the unprecedented tornado swarms in areas that, almost, never had seen such phenomena?
    High energy in the air brings more storms, more hurricanes, more typhoons, more tornadoes, more tornado swarms, etc. Even more lightning!
    The recent swarm of wildfires in California, recently, were caused by thousands of lightnings starting over 400 wildfires within one day!
    [nearly all USAF water bombers were send and, too soon, had to leave for reasons never explained. Lack of funds?]
    Some of us want both the statistical basis and the conceptual principles or guidelines derived, by smart scientists, from the same data, that I am unqualified to derive -and happy to keep it that way.
    ———–
    Incidentally, the possibility of repeat of the “Year without Summer” in the early 1800s, even Franklin wrote about it, may have been caused by a “shutdown” of the Gulf Stream “conveyor belt” caused by a flood of pure melted water (unsalted) that blocked the north leg of the gulfstream, may be the explanation for what is happening in England.
    But, to date, the source of this flood of salt-free water has not been located, it may be a rush from the big north-flowing rivers in Siberia, a sudden realease of water from some part of Greenland or the unprecedented melting of Arctic floating ice. Stay tuned, scientists will soon find its origin and reason will be restored.

  9. Eve says:

    I know I sound like a broken record reminding everybody that not everyplace in the world is colder than normal this winter but another
    type of record was broken today in Jerusalem – where the temperature
    was in the high 20s (Celsius) and we were out in shirtsleeves -
    the highest February temperature in Jerusalem in 60 years.

  10. Dose of Reality says:

    People are REALLY over-reacting to these snowstorms – I LIVE in Virginia! Yes, it’s quite an exciting winter with all this snow – incredible since we have seen VERY LITTLE snow over the past 5 years! Indeed, several winters we went without ANY snow. Was this caused by climate warming, too? And was the famous Ice Age of centures past caused by climate warming? Did MAN’s abuse of our earth cause the Ice Age? ABSURD! We have not paid enough attention to the various cycles of weather the earth has experienced over the centures, and have decided instead to make “a mountain out of a mole hill”. Thankfully, we still have springtime and harvest, as we always have. The weather DOES change, but then it swings back the other direction, in cycles. And we always have our fruit trees budding, blooming, and bearing fruit, year after year after year. Don’t get hysterical, people!

  11. paul says:

    imagine if the snow did not go away

    look at this and pray for a little extra warmth

    http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2010/02/lots-of-snow.html

  12. David B. Benson says:

    Dose of Reality (11) — Please do read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:
    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html