Understanding the Blizzard of ’15 – Enhanced By a Changing Climate

January 26, 2015


Before this latest storm, we’ve seen a long-term pattern of more extreme precipitation, particularly in New England winters. Climate scientists had long predicted this would happen in a warming world. Here’s why.

Percent changes in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (the heaviest 1%) from 1958 to 2012″ by region,” via the 2014 National Climate Assessment. “There is a clear national trend toward a greater amount of precipitation being concentrated in very heavy events, particularly in the Northeast,” driven by a warming climate.


Via Climate Nexus:

Dr. Jennifer Francis:

Strong winter nor’easters along the NE coast of the U.S. are certainly not anything new or unusual, and when they occur, a strong jet stream with a trough over the eastern U.S. is always the culprit. That said, there are a few climate-change related factors that are likely conspiring to make this storm potentially one for the record books.

First, the ocean temperatures in the NW Atlantic are well above normal. This provides both a strong land-ocean temperature contrast to help fuel the jet stream and also additional oceanic moisture, which provides energy and moisture for the storm.

Second, global water vapor content is higher now (about 7% on average) than it was several decades ago (a direct result of global warming), which again, provides additional energy and moisture for this and any storm that forms today.

Third, the western ridge/eastern trough pattern of the jet stream that is in place now has also been very persistent most of this winter as well as most of last year. This very wavy and persistent pattern is consistent with my hypothesis for the atmosphere’s response to Arctic amplification, but the jury is still out as to whether the Arctic has played a direct role in causing these recent patterns. The ridge in the west is directly responsible for the drought out west, the cold in the upper midwest, and the stormy western N. Atlantic this winter.


Dr. Michael Mann:

Climate change is making these sorts of storms more common, much as it is making Sandy-like Superstorms and unusually intense hurricanes more common. Asking whether these storms were caused by climate change, however, is asking the wrong question. What we *can* say is that they were likely made worse by climate change.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth:

The number 1 cause of this is that it is winter. In winter it is cold over the continent. But it is warm over the oceans and the contrast between the cold continent and the warm Gulf Stream and surrounding waters is increasing. At present sea surface temperatures are more than 2F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the east coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10% higher as a result. About half of this can be attributed to climate change.

Greg Laden’s Blog:

Storms of roughly this magnitude, in this the New York City area, have occurred in 1888, 1947, 1978, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2010. A similar pattern would emerge if the focal area was Boston. Weather Wunderground lists these snow events for New York City, indicating that half of the heavy events since the mid nineteenth century have occurred in the last 12 years:

1. 26.9″ Feb 11-12, 2006
2. 25.8″ Dec 26-27, 1947
3. 21.0″ Mar 12-14, 1888
4. 20.9″ Feb 25-26, 2010
5. 20.2″ Jan 7-8, 1996
6. 20.0″ Dec 26-27, 2010
7. 19.8″ Feb 16-17, 2003
8. 19.0″ Jan 26-27, 2011
9. 18.1″ Jan 22-24, 1935
9. 18.1″ Mar 7-8, 1941

Both the odd jet stream and the warm sea surface temperatures can be pegged as likely effects of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). This added to the clear pattern of more of these storms happening very recently strongly suggest that it is reasonable to characterize this storm as a “global warming amplified storm.” This is not unexpected.

4 Responses to “Understanding the Blizzard of ’15 – Enhanced By a Changing Climate”

  1. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  2. John Says:

    Hard to understand why people choose to ignore the science.

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