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Third winter storm in 10 days bears down on New England

Climate change is making nor’easters worse.

Winter Storm Skylar. CREDIT: CIRA/RAMMB
Winter Storm Skylar. CREDIT: CIRA/RAMMB

By Jeremy Deaton

The Eastern Seaboard is enduring its third nor’easter in 10 days. Winter Storm Skylar is expected to blanket New England in more than a foot of snow. The National Weather Service has warned of “near-blizzard conditions.”

The rapid succession of storms may seem unusual, but mounting evidence suggests that climate change is making nor’easters more frequent and powerful. A new study finds that when the Arctic is unusually warm, the eastern United States endures more severe winters.

Nor’easters form when warm ocean air converges with cold terrestrial air. They are more powerful in the winter when the temperature difference is greatest. Climate change is making the temperature contrast even more pronounced, both by warming the Atlantic and by distorting the jet stream, allowing frigid Arctic air to reach further south. Rising temperatures in the Arctic are responsible for reshaping the jet stream.

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Rising seas are also making winter storms more severe. Nor’easters deliver high-speed winds that can produce storm surges along the coast, and more than a century of climate change has driven up sea levels by around eight inches, worsening coastal floods. This was apparent in Winter Storm Riley, which inundated Boston in early March.

Credit: Twitter
Credit: Twitter

Like Winter Storm Riley and Winter Storm Quinn, which struck last week, Winter Storm Skylar is expected to produce winds upwards of 60 mph, which, combined with severe snowfall, will produce whiteout conditions in parts of New England. The storm has grounded more than 1,000 flights and left more than 150,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts without power.

Officials say New Englanders should stay indoors and away from windows. They are also urging those in the storm’s path to prepare for power outages by charging portable devices and checking flashlight batteries.

Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him @deaton_jeremy.