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Blizzards and Climate Change – A Meteorological View

February 10, 2010

The Mid-Atlantic is yet again being blasted with snow. This current blizzard is going to add up to 16 inches to our standing snow pack of about 2-3 feet, likely making this the snowiest winter on record in the Washington, DC area (and Baltimore, and Wilmington.. you get the point). Federal government offices have been closed for several days. The mail is not going to be delivered. The bodega across the street is closed. And your devoted Carbonfund.org staff cannot make it into the office and need to work from home.

But there is a perception that is held by some that these extreme blizzards contradict evidence of climate change. While one cannot argue with anecdotal evidence it is inappropriate to try and explain global climate variations with weather events. The big difference is that weather is what happens now or this coming weekend, and climate is the long-term trends that take place over years and decades. With that said, there are experts out there that create a pretty sound logic for how climate change can actually make blizzards more common in winter. Dr. Jeff Masters with Weather Underground sums it up well:

…record-breaking snowstorms are not an indication that climate change is not occurring. In fact, we can expect there may be more heavy snowstorms in regions where it is cold enough to snow, due to the extra moisture climate change has added to the atmosphere–an extra 4% since 1970. Snow is not the same as cold, and we have to look at global temperatures, not snowfall, to evaluate whether climate change is occurring.

So there is actually a reasonable rationale for how climate change and blizzards can coexist. Please add your comment on this post.

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