Winter Weather and Climate Change

Large snowstorms, like the recent northeastern Blizzard, can lead some people to question the existence of global warming. According to scientists, however, these intense snowstorms are actually signs of our changing climate.

Significant snow events require both a deep supply of moisture and freezing temperatures.  The cold temperature part of this equation is a natural part of the winter season, which is itself, a result of the tilt of the Earth’s axis.  Here in the northern hemisphere, winter means our half of the planet is tilted away from the sun and therefore receives the least amount of solar energy all year.

While global warming will not change the tilt of the Earth’s axis, it is affecting the moisture content of our atmosphere. Rising levels of greenhouse gases are warming the air, which in turn, allows it to hold more moisture.  As a result, storms are producing more intense precipitation, including heavier than normal snowfall when given the proper conditions.

As global temperatures rise, scientists say we should expect to see more large storms, but less snow overall in the winter season. The window for typical winter weather is also expected to shrink, as spring-like conditions continue to arrive earlier than in the past.