Global Warming Brings Wacky Winter Weather

As Washington, DC -- and much of the Mid-Atlantic region -- gets set for another snowfall, the forecast no doubt will embolden the smug doubters and deniers of global climate change.  That's to be expected, I suppose, given the misnomer for the climate crisis.  The refrain every winter is the same and I can here it now: "Hey, it's cold outside. So much for global warming!"

Very funny. Also very inaccurate.  That's because what people need to understand is that the overall trend of the planet's increasingly warmer temperatures translates into extreme changes in the climate.  Simply put, that causes more frequent, more powerful storms, meaning that some places which are hot and dry stand to get a whole lot hotter and drier while the wetter, cooler places may experience even more rainfall and flooding.  

This phenomenon gets timely coverage by the National Wildlife Federation in a new report: Odd-ball Winter Weather: Global Warming's Wake-Up Call for the Northern United States.

Image removed.

The report details how: 

Wintertime temperatures have been increasing across the northern United States.

  • Since the 1970s, December-February temperature increases have ranged from 1 to 2 degrees in the Pacific Northwest to about 4 degrees in the Northeast to more than 6 degrees in Alaska.

  • Winters are getting shorter, too. Spring arrives 10-14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago.

Global warming is bringing a clear trend toward heavier precipitation events.

  • Many areas are seeing bigger and more intense snowstorms, especially in the upper Midwest and Northeast.

  • Global warming is shifting storm tracks northward. Areas from the Dakotas eastward to northern Michigan have seen a trend toward more heavy snowfall season.

Many nasty pests are expanding further north or are no longer being kept in check by frosts or sufficiently cold temperatures.

  • The ticks responsible for carrying Lyme disease are one example of projected range expansion as winters become milder

  • Millions of acres of pine forests across the Western United States, Alaska, and Canada have been decimated by pine bark beetle infestations in recent years. Higher temperatures have enhanced winter survival of the beetle larvae.

Large economic uncertainty and potential losses are in store for many communities, especially in regions where winter recreation provides significant tourism revenue.

  • A number of Northeastern ski areas are likely to see a 25-45% decline in the length of their ski season by the 2070s.

  • Lakes across the Midwest are freezing later and have thinner ice, often leading to ice conditions to dangerous for safe ice fishing.

  • Removing snow and ice from our roadways cost states more than $1.2 billion each year on average from 1998 to 2007.

The report also includes recommendations for reducing the risk:

  • Curbing global warming pollution to minimize future oddball winter weather.
  • Accounting for greater variability in snow removal and flood management programs.
  • Safeguarding wildlife, fish and habitats from more unpredictable winter weather.

There you have it. The next time someone comments on the wacky weather or tries to use winter as an excuse to dismiss concerns about the world's most pressing environmental calamity, be sure to clue them in about the underlying cause: climate change.

Flickr photo: "Snowpocalypse" by William Neuheisel, Creative Commons 2.0 licensing