February 18, 2013

Blizzards a big part of global warming

Experts predict a shorter snow season, less snow overall and an occasional knockout punch.

By SETH BORENSTEIN The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Parking meters on Market Street in Portland are nearly covered in snow after a blizzard Feb. 9.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Man-made snow coats a ski run next to bare ground under a chairlift at the Shawnee Peak ski area in Bridgton on Jan. 5, 2012.

2012 Associated Press file

This is especially important out West where large snowcaps are natural reservoirs for a region's water supply, Kapnick said. And already in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest and in much of California, the amount of snow still around on April 1 has been declining so that it's down about 20 percent compared to 80 years ago, said Philip Mote, who heads a climate change institute at Oregon State University.

Kapnick says it is snowing about as much as ever in the heart of winter, such as February. But the snow season is getting much shorter, especially in spring and in the northernmost areas, said Rutgers' David Robinson, a co-author of the study on extreme weather that will be published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

The Rutgers snow lab says this January saw the sixth-widest snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; the United States had an above average snow cover for the last few months. But that's misleading, Robinson said, because even though more ground is covered by snow, it's covered by less snow.

And when those big storms finally hit, there is more than just added moisture in the air, there's extra moisture coming from the warm ocean, Robinson and Oppenheimer said. And the air is full of energy and unstable, allowing storms to lift yet more moisture up to colder levels. That generates more intense rates of snowfall, Robinson said.

"If you can tap that moisture and you have that fortuitous collision of moist air and below freezing temperatures, you can pop some big storms," Robinson said.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann points to the recent Northeast storm that dumped more than 30 inches in some places. He said it was the result of Arctic air colliding with unusually warm oceans that produced extra large amounts of moisture and big temperature contrasts, which drive storms. Those all meant more energy, more moisture and thus more snow, he said.

 

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