Climate Change: More or Less Snow?

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Climate change…does it mean more or less snow?

After a period of time from the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s, it seemed as if every winter was getting warmer and less snowy. Then, a series of major to historic snow storms rocked the northeastern United States over the past 10 years. The winter of 2010-11 pounded Connecticut with snow storm after snow storm and record snow depths. The following winter of 2011-12 was virtually snow-less (after a rare October snow storm) and this current winter featured another autumn nor’easter followed by the unforgettable Blizzard of 2013.

What does all of this mean?

The Associated Press published a story with CBS claiming that “climate change could mean less snow, but more ‘knockout punches,'” but I’m not buying it. [full story]

Less snow, but more major snow storms?
If we look at this current decade, yes, there has been a lot of volatility  We’re seeing more record warmth, but also a seemingly routine amount of historic storms. Whether it was Hurricanes Irene or Sandy, the autumn nor’easters of the past two winters or other crippling snow storms, Connecticut has become the epicenter for severe weather. At least over the past few years. I think what we’re seeing is that overall, snowfall amounts in the long-term aren’t changing all that much. We’re just seeing more extreme ups and downs in terms of snowfall.

Is this severe weather really uncommon?
Weather has natural cycles. The 1930’s saw some very active weather (hurricanes) in the tropics, including the Hurricane of 1938, one of the worst New England storms on record. The 1950’s saw several hurricanes brush by the Northeast and the period of the 1950’s to 1970’s also seemed very cold and snowy. Few who are old enough to remember could not forget the Blizzard of 1978. The 1980’s saw a shift where the decade started cold, but overall, snowfall was below average for the decade. The 1990’s was when talk of climate change and warming temperatures really got going. The Perfect Storm of 1991 was followed by the Superstorm of 1993 and the Blizzard of 1996. The 2000’s has featured more snow overall, but this has come with warmer temperatures.

Looking at the big picture, severe weather happens. Some years are quieter than others. Other years could see several historic storms over a short period of time. I don’t think we’re necessarily seeing anything drastically unusual. With social media and sophisticated technology, we’re micro-analyzing storms more and the spread of information is faster than ever.

Is climate change a reality?
It’s hard to argue against the fact that temperatures globally have been on the rise. Ocean levels are rising and the frequency of powerful storms seems to be increasing. It’s not just about severe rain and snow storms though. Record droughts have gripped parts of the United States and even Connecticut for a time last year.

Are severe storms becoming more common?
Not necessarily, but there is an argument that with warmer sea-surface temperatures, there is more potential fuel for storms to grow. Yes, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy were devastating to Connecticut, but it’s still been since 1985 that an actual hurricane made landfall in our state. Based on history, we are actually overdue for a direct hit from a hurricane. In 1955, Hurricanes Connie and Diane both slammed Connecticut in the span of just over a week.

Severe weather has happened in the past and it’s going to keep happening. Perhaps now there is more awareness because areas like Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have been hit especially hard in recent memory. The bottom line is that these areas have been impacted by severe weather, even before all of the talk of climate change started.

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Quincy

Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com.

After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design.

He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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