Do abundant snowstorms suggest global warming is not occurring?

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Do abundant snowstorms suggest global warming is not occurring?

Bar graph fluctuates from 1967 to 2011, but shows a gradual increase in snow overall

Graphic: Rutgers University Global Snow Lab
This graphs shows the area of land covered by snow over the past few decades in North America.

No. These storms are individual weather events, which cannot be used to support or refute climate trends. Which also means that the warm weather in Vancouver is not evidence that global warming is occurring. Weather relates to events that will happen over the next few days; climate describes what happens over decades. To make such claims about these storms and climate would be similar to saying “Looks like car accidents rates for WI are going down this year.” after returning from an incident free car ride on a Sunday afternoon. Accident trends are not about individual experiences, and climate and climate trends are not about individual weather events.

It is reasonable to ask, will we see more or less of winter storms in the coming decades with a warmer climate? There is some evidence that a warmer climate will result in more frequent large snowstorms. While the average global temperature 25 years from now will be warmer than current conditions, we will still have winters and summers. A warmer atmosphere means that there will be more water vapor in the atmosphere which could lead to greater snowfall amounts from individual storms during winter. In addition, a warmer world leads to a warmer ocean. So, as winter storms move along the eastern seaboard there could be more evaporation from the warm water. This provides more water for precipitation and more fuel to strengthen the storm.

Steven A. Ackerman and Jonathan Martin are professors in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UW-Madison, are guests on the Larry Meiller‘s WHA-AM radio show the last Monday of each month at 11:45 a.m.