Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

What does a blizzard on the U.S. East Coast mean for global warming?


brooklyn-snowstorm-2010Short answer? Not much.

In fact, while no single storm is anything more than weather, stronger winter storms are exactly what climate scientists expect from a warming climate. How can that be? Simple. Warmer air allows for more water vapor, the key constituent of snow (which accords with the folk wisdom from my home state, where when the temperature got really brisk and the sky was leaden, people would observe: "Too cold to snow.")

More frigid temperatures may be exactly what northern Europe and Asia get thanks to global warming. A study published November 5 in the Journal of Geophysical Research  suggests that the melting of the Arctic sea ice thanks to warmer air in the far north is changing weather patterns. And that means more bitterly cold air will settle in over Britain while Greenland may actually come closer to being green (or, at least, balmier in winter).

And, according to NASA, 2010 is now the warmest year since record-keeping began. Plus, the World Meteorological Organization notes that 2001-2010 is now the warmest decade on record. One snowstorm in the U.S.—or even bouts of frigid weather in Europe—won't change that.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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