Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Snow -- Could this be global warming?

It may well be, says a Drexel University biology professor.

Snow -- Could this be global warming?


Intuitively, the atmosphere over Philadelphia appears to making an argument against global warming. Quite the contrary, counters Jim Spotila, a biology professor at Drexel University.

While he stops short of saying the two mega-storms this season represent smoking ice cubes, increased storm intensity is "consistent" with higher worldwide temperatures. Increased greenhouse gases would mean more water vapor to fuel storms, something he attributes to "simple physics."

The people who forecast the weather are more reluctant to bring global warming into the discussion; they have enough problems with tomorrow's weather.

Wes Junker, a former chief forecaster at National Weather Service headquarters and an expert in precipitation, cautioned that it one cannot draw conclusions from what happens in one season on one dot of the planet.

A few other cautionary notes:

The folks in snow-starved New York and southern New England are not complaining about increased storminess. (Although they might be by Wednesday.)

The mega-snowstorms this season have been extreme and unprecedented around here, and the region has never had two giant snowfalls within four days, as the forecasts are suggesting.

However, other winters have had a special pick on certain parts of the country. The winter of 1977-78, for example, hammered Boston; and two winters later, Norfolk, Va., got its turn. 

Speaking of January 1978, the region had three substantial snowfall from the 13th to the 20th and two months' worth of precipitation in that week.

All that duly noted, Spotila says that at the very least the heightened storminess is "consistent" with what would be expected from a warming world.

"That's the key," he said. 

Inquirer Weather Columnist
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Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

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