Monday, November 24, 2014

Record Breaking Buffalo Snow Storm Consistent with Global Warming

The massive snow storm that shattered records and dumped more than seven feet of snow on Buffalo is consistent with what we can expect from a world ravaged by climate change. Far from being evidence to disprove global warming it actually supports the predictions of climate change models.

Not only did thirteen people die as a consequence of the storm, there were major cleanup costs, significant damage and thousands of hours of lost productivity. As of Sunday morning, more than 84,000 tons of snow had been removed from portions of South Buffalo and Kaisertown. At least 30 roofs are known to have collapsed from the weight of the accumulated snowfall. Economic costs related to the storm are expected to exceed $3.2 million for Erie County and $27 million for the state.

The melting of the snow, due to rapid temperature increases (another corollary of climate change), is having a destructive impact. This is but the latest in a spate of extreme weather in New York. The the past four years the state has had to deal with 11 major weather events.

As explained by Michael Mann, professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, the storm was caused by, "cold winds traveling over the warm moisture-laden lake created a perfect storm of conditions for record lake-effect snow."

At least one study shows how lake-effect snowstorms increase with global warming. Warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate into the atmosphere, and warmer air holds more water than cooler air. This effect was demonstrated in a study published in 2006. The conclusion of this research was that warmer years produce bigger snow storms.

Paradoxically through what is known as the polar vortex, warmer global temperatures can increase the likelihood of frigid Arctic air to flow further south than is normal. Even though 2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record, we saw a blast of unseasonably cold temperatures in November.

Climatologists have indicated that extreme cold can be caused by stratospheric warming. In fact temperature fluctuations and cold snaps are consistent with global warming.

"If Jennifer Francis, Stefan Rahmstorf and others who have published work suggesting that the increased tendency for anomalously persistent meanders in the jet stream might be a consequence ofhuman-caused climate change are right, then climate change may have indeed played a hand in this event," Mann said.

So contrary to the ignorance of climate deniers, the snow storm in New York state is entirely consistent with predictions of a warming world.

"The Buffalo blizzard of November 2014 is fully consistent with our understanding of human-induced climate change," said Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley.

Scientists who study climate anticipate more record breaking snowfalls will increase as the world continues to warm.

"If you look at model projections of climate change for the next few decades under business as usual carbon emissions, what they show is that you'll still have 'winter' over regions like the United States — that is, there will still be a wide seasonal window where it is cold enough for snow,'' Mann said. "But because winters will be warmer, the atmosphere will have the ability to hold more water vapor, and so there is more of that water vapor available for precipitation. Again, as long as it's cold enough for that precipitation to be snow, which it will be, you'll actually get larger snowfalls.''

"The models all agree there will be more precipitation in the northern United States as global temperatures continue to increase," Wehner said.

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