Snowstorms and Global Warming Detailed in Recent Report from the National Wildlife Federation

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Global warming is having a seemingly peculiar effect on winter weather in the northern United States, detailed in a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. Winter weather is broadly changing in some ways that might be expected with global warming: winters are a couple of degrees warmer, winters are ending 1-2 weeks earlier, and there is less ice on lakes and rivers.

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Odd-ball winter weather is another sign of how uncontrolled carbon pollution amounts to an unchecked experiment on people and nature. While global warming means shorter, milder winters on average, some snowbelt areas could see more heavy snowfall events.

Global warming is having a seemingly peculiar effect on winter weather in the northern United States, detailed in a new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

Winter weather is broadly changing in some ways that might be expected with global warming: winters are a couple of degrees warmer, winters are ending 1-2 weeks earlier, and there is less ice on lakes and rivers.

How global warming affects snowstorms is more difficult to dissect because the development of big snowstorms depends on moisture availability, temperature, and storm tracks. One unexpected impact is that snowstorms could get heavier in the next couple decades. As air warms, it can hold more moisture, which can make for heavier snowfalls as long as the temperature is still below freezing. In addition, areas near the Great Lakes may get more lake-effect snow as milder winters mean more open water from which storms can gather moisture.

“Odd-ball winter weather is yet another sign of how uncontrolled carbon pollution amounts to an unchecked experiment on people and nature,” said Dr. Staudt. “While global warming means shorter, milder winters on average, some snowbelt areas could see more heavy snowfall events.”

Winter 2009-2010 is already proving to be unusual for the United States, with the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast getting relatively little snow and the Mid-Atlantic on track to have one of the snowiest winters on record. These patterns are related to natural climate variations, including El Niño and the Arctic Oscillation. While it’s too early to determine what role global warming is playing, the record-setting snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic this winter is generally consistent with how global warming could contribute to heavier snowfalls.

Odd-ball Winter Weather: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Northern United States details how:

  •      Global warming will bring more oddball winter weather
  •      Milder winters disrupt ecosystems in some surprising ways
  •      Large economic uncertainty and potential losses are in store for many communities
  •      Natural habitats and agriculture are vulnerable to changing winter weather
  •      We can reduce the severity of future oddball winter weather and its impacts

From coast to coast, the report details recent odd-ball winter weather events in regions that are expected to see more of the same if global warming pollution continues unabated.

“We need to take these trends toward more odd-ball winter weather events into account when planning for snow removal, flood management, and recreation and tourism,” said Dr. Staudt. “We can no longer plan based on the climate we used to have.”

Press contact:
Aileo Weinmann
202-797-6801

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