Winter is Warming. Really.

January 28, 2019

First make sure you have your long johns and wool socks ready – if you are in the upper midwest United States, we’re in for a cold snap.
The polar vortex is at it again, and we’ve discussed how that’s related to climate change. ( see above for what it’s doing today – Monday, 1/28/19) Note the freight train of cold air coming down from the Canadian Archipelago onto the upper midwest.

But the bigger picture is warmer winters. Climate Central has a nice tool to look at temp records in your city – but if you want confirmation, ask your local ski resort operator.


Climate Central:

A mid-winter cold snap has hit much of the country, but these episodes are becoming less frequent with climate change. Low temperatures and ample snowfall are a must for winter recreation — an industry that contributed more than $20 billion to the national economy in the 2015-2016 season. These conditions are under threat from warming winters, according to a new report from Climate Central.

Warming is affecting regional snowfall patterns differently,  but from the 1970s to 2010s, 57 of the 107 analyzed weather stations saw the average annual snowfall trend downward by at least an inch. The biggest losers were Flagstaff, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Casper, Wyoming — all historically snowy Western cities that are getting drieroverall. Since the 1970s, annual snowfall has dropped by a total of 48, 31, and 29 inches in those cities, respectively.


Click for Larger

However, warming of the Great Lakes has hindered ice formation and increased the evaporation that fuels lake effect snow. Annual snowfall totals in Marquette, Michigan; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Youngstown, Ohio have climbed by respective totals of 68, 33, and 30 inches in the last half-century. Trends have also climbed more than 10 inches in Northeastern cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, as a warmer atmosphere leads to more heavy precipitation events where it is still cold enough to support snow. Still, future warming will mean fewer days below freezing and more rain than snow, as shown in our 2016 report, “Meltdown.”



Lake Superior on January 21, 2019.  As the Great Lakes are more often ice free in wintertime, increased evaporation can lead to Lake Effect snowfalls across the upper midwest. Click image for larger.

Snow-friendly temperatures are declining across the country. In the last half-century, winters have warmed by more than 2°F in 78 percent of the 244 cities analyzed. Seventeen cities have warmed by more than 5°F, led by a 7°F increase in Burlington, Vermont. And according to Climate Impact Lab, every state in the contiguous U.S. will see fewer days with below-freezing lows by midcentury, shortening winter recreation seasons.

Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions would limit these effects. In Colorado, the nation’s top winter sports economy, unchecked emissions would cause 34 fewer below-freezing days per year by the 2040-2059 period, compared to the 1981-2010 average. But if the world meets its Paris Agreement pledges to reduce emissions, Colorado could save 8 snow-friendly days per year. For the state’s 43,000 winter recreation jobs, a salvaged week could make a major difference.

Deniers often get confused about the physics of snow.

These images from the Rutgers Snow Lab seem contradictory, but they’re not.
Spoiler –  physics.


A warmer atmosphere means more precipitation – and during the winter, if the air is below freezing, that’s snow.
But take a look at declining spring snow extent.  Every farmer, hiker, hunter, boater, sailor and gardener knows that the seasons are changing – spring is coming sooner. The signal of declining spring snow cover is completely clear and consistent, as is the slight increase during the cold months.

4 Responses to “Winter is Warming. Really.”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Well done, great graphics. Just more evidence that it’s really happening.

    If this was a TV crime show, the detectives would have a crime board so complete that the SWAT ream would be rolling and kicking down doors. How much more do we need to really get moving?

  2. Excellent interpretation and explanation of the facts on the ground. Warmer waters do mean more rain and snow, more often in large events. I am seeing little evidence that humanity will do little to address the problem of climate destruction until it is much too late. Al Gore was right. It’s just too inconvenient.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Anyone living in the mountains wouldn’t need a chart to realise that winters have become warmer. It’s also pretty warm here in IRL. Anyway, here the latest slag on Tramp by the NYT: If the Earth Is Warming, Why Is It So Cold Outside?

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