Researchers link global warming to extreme snowstorms

5:39 AM, Feb 19, 2013   |    comments
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EXCELSIOR, Minn. - Upcoming climate studies are expected to explain how global warming is causing a climate contradiction -- big blizzards, but less snow overall.

The Northeast was smacked with more than two feet of snow in some places earlier this month, but leading climate scientists believe the storm is linked to man-made global warming.

The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by federal and university climate scientists.

The soon to be published study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years, adding that parts of the United States are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 and 70 percent by the end of the century.

"It is a paradox. Our winters are shrinking. We are not really getting as much bitter air, the nasty sub zero stuff, but when it does snow, because it's warmer, warm air can hold more water vapor, kind of like a sponge soaking up moisture. We can get more intense snowfalls," said Paul Douglas, founder and meteorologist at Weather Nation, a national weather cable channel based in Excelsior.

He says Minnesota's atmosphere has warmed two to three degrees, bringing turbo charged storms out of the higher amounts of moisture in the warm air, and not just in winter, but summer too.

"We have had three 1,000-year rains in Southern Minnesota since 2000 ... Duluth last June, 10 inches of rain in the North Woods, no one can recall seeing it rain that hard," said Douglas.

The Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the last 45 years.

Douglas says the past two years have seen the most severe weather since 1816. He says people may not believe climate scientists, but they do believe their eyes, and what's ahead could impact what Minnesotans do see in daily life: agriculture, transportation, tourism and water supply.

"Something has changed, it's not your grandfather's weather anymore," said Douglas. "These 'Black Swan' weather events, whether it's a Duluth flood, a major tornado hitting an urban area, or more Sandys, we need to understand climate theory has become meteorological reality."

So far in Minnesota this year, KARE 11 meteorologists have tracked nearly 39 inches of snow, currently 8 inches behind the average snowfall. More snow is expected later this week.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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