By Rachel Koning Beals
That’s not the sound of a howling wind — it’s thousands of climate-change scientists clapping back at the idea the nor’easter that blanketed several states refutes global-warming warnings.
A powerful winter storm hit the mid-Atlantic and Northeast Friday night into Saturday, encasing Virginia to Maine in blizzard conditions. Airlines canceled more than 4,500 flights at some of the nation’s busiest airports, according to FlightAware.
Heavy snowfall and its accompanying chilly conditions often spark remarks to the tune of “so much for global warming” or other collective shoulder-shrugging that frustrates environmental groups and the scientific community.
This particular system formed in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Georgia, then rapidly strengthened — a process known as bombogenesis — overnight Friday and tracked Saturday up the East Coast. “Guidance indicates potential for this storm to undergo bombogenesis [because of a drop in pressure],” the Boston weather service office said . “This creates a very tight pressure gradient, meaning strong, potentially damaging winds will accompany the snow.”
In all, over 75 million Americans were under some level of winter weather alert as of Friday afternoon, several weather services said. This included the Chicago metro area, which added several inches of lake-effect snow Friday to accumulation already on the ground. And looking globally, a rare snowstorm has just hit the Middle East .
This is global warming, actually
Scientists offer some clarity on a blizzards and global warming paradox.
Although climate change is expected to lower the amount of overall snow the U.S. receives on an annual basis, it’s going to increase the number of nor’easters we see annually , according to a recent report from the federally funded National Center for Atmospheric Research’s nonprofit arm, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, or UCAR.
“What this research finds is almost all of the decrease in snow occurs in weaker, more nuisance-type events,” atmospheric scientist Colin Zarzycki told NCAR UCAR. “The really crippling storms that have major regional impacts on transportation, on the economy, on infrastructure are not significantly mitigated in a warming climate.”
Total snowfall counts are falling
Total snowfall has decreased in many parts of the country since widespread observations became available in 1930, the EPA says, with 57% of tracking stations showing a decline; the average change is a decrease of nearly 0.2% per year. Less snow means, among other risks, a tendency for drought conditions in the seasons that follow.
A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. This moisture eventually falls as precipitation — either as rain (when temperatures are warm) or snow (when temperatures are below freezing)— which results in more frequent and intense storms. Sea temperatures are also on the rise, which increases the amount of energy and moisture available to storms.
On average, winters are getting warmer and shorter, with fewer places experiencing extremely cold temperatures. Yet, because of all the added moisture, blizzards are more likely to occur and be more severe in places where temperatures are still cold enough for snow.
Essentially, the NCAR UCAR study reiterates other research suggesting that extreme weather patterns have been, and will continue to become, more common .
Average global temperatures have already risen by about 0.8°C (1.4°F) in the last century, and they are expected to continue to rise should no actions take place to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Although Earth’s climate has had warmer and cooler periods throughout history, the current rate of warming has far exceeded that of past millennia, National Geographic shares in its curricula materials.
Americans are grappling with a new normal that sparks a rethink of reliance on crude oil, heating oil /zigman2/quotes/210062576/delayed HO00 +0.49% , natural gas /zigman2/quotes/210189548/delayed NG00 -1.05% and gasoline in favor of renewable-power heating, cooling and transportation alternatives, and times of severe storms aren’t conducive to the bigger talks on combating climate change. Even the Biden administration, while making climate change a target of its agenda, has pushed for efforts to keep natural gas prices down for U.S. consumers.
Adoption of solar panels or large wind turbines offshore /zigman2/quotes/205740995/composite ICLN +2.50% , even electric battery-powered vehicles in the garage /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +7.43% /zigman2/quotes/230726939/composite RIVN +7.27% , are all part of a transition moving more quickly in Europe, parts of Asia, and in some U.S. states over others. Costs, reliability and availability are linked to cautious “green” adoption, as well.
Still, severe weather, including the climate change-fueled Hurricane Ida last summer, accounted for $329 billion in global economic losses linked to weather extremes last year, and only 38% of that bill was covered by insurance. Hurricanes are not new, but the amount of water they suck up from warmer oceans makes for longer-lasting storms. The distance they push inland has also expanded, with dangerous consequences.