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Winter: it’s cold and snowy

Posted on Jan 5, 2014

Yes, it is true – you may be fascinated to learn that in the winter season it is often both cold and snowy. Frozen precipitation can fall from the sky in great amounts when the temperature goes below freezing in many areas and this has been going on for quite some time. In fact much of the United States can have these conditions occur frequently, especially in the months of December, January and February.

Huh? My sarcasm is in response to a week of nonstop climate change denial because it’s cold in the winter. We had a snowstorm that moved across much of the populated northeastern areas of the country just after New Year’s Day and despite the fact we have had some historic snowfalls in recent years (like the ~40 inches I personally enjoyed last February in about 24 hours) the mainstream media hype machine latched onto this run of the mill moderate windy storm like it was something to be mortified of. We know that was because of ratings and dollars but it becomes a problem if in turn it leads some down the path of wondering how the heck it could be snowing in January if the planet was warming.

These are some cool graphics from the EPA of the change in total snowfall and the change in snowfall as part of the total precipitation across the U.S. from 1930 through 2007.



The first graphic shows 57% of the stations have seen a decline in snowfall and the second shows more than 75% showing a decline in the snow percentage of total precipitation. These results only begin to skim the surface of an extraordinarily complex and ridiculously deep weather and climate system on our planet and it is hard to interpret them in specific regions or sites without some context. For example, the Pacific Northwest saw extreme declines in both measures, as you can see. I would surmise this is at least partly because of its proximity to the warming Pacific Ocean and some its weather coming directly from it or being influenced greatly by it.

On the other hand warmer temperatures in some areas could actually mean more snow – case in point being our local Great Lakes. The more time they are unfrozen the more chances the lake effect snow machine can dump snowfall on surrounding regions. Those are only very basic examples. Also remember that warming the Earth as a whole is going to cause more extremes of all sorts due to more power being pumped into the weather system: higher and lower temperatures with more intense and prolonged precipitation with more severe storms during all seasons, including winter.

We didn’t exactly flip a switch and set the Earth’s thermostat to year-round 72 degrees. We simply have to keep informing people that the atmosphere is chaotic by definition and that climate change is subtle and intricate with long-term data and observations yielding the frightening trends that are backed up by the scientific reality of greenhouse gases. I can tell you something with 100% certainty – it is going to keep snowing in the winter. The upcoming week fill feature brutally cold air that we are not used to feeling as often as we are used to because winter is the season getting warmer the fastest in the U.S. Be warm, stay safe, and keep spreading the word.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator