Northeastern Snow is breaking backs, not records

snowShoveling out from under the United States Northeastern snowfall is putting a lot of backs out of kilter, as well as pronouncements that a new pattern is emerging: climate change is causing more snowstorms.

The global warming doomsters didn’t wait long to chime in on the Northeast’s heavy snowfall, blaming it on excessive moisture in the atmosphere collected from warmer bodies of water, and portending it will be a record breaker. The problem with that scenario is that it doesn’t stand up to the observed data. And it flies in the face of the peer-reviewed literature they are so apt to quote.

From Perfect Science:

Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo, said, “The environment in which all storms form is now different than it was just 30 or 40 years ago because of global warming.”

He added that due to climate change, snowfall will increase in future as the atmosphere can hold 4% more moisture for every 1-degree increase in temperature. So, there will be more snow than rain provided the temperatures stay just below freezing.

Read that again:“There will be more snow than rain provided the temperatures stay just below freezing.” In a warming world, there will be fewer days below freezing, leading to less snowfall, regardless of the amount of moisture in the air.

Looking at just the total precipitation for February for Boston, Massachusetts, which is water that falls to the ground (better known on the streets as rain), we see that since 1920, nine of the last top ten years for total precipitation totals in February weren’t even in the last decade. Five of those nine years were before 1972 (as reported by NWS/NOAA):

2008 – 7.94 in
1984 – 7.81 in
1969 – 7.08 in
1981 – 6.65 in
1958 – 5.87 in
1972 – 5.74 in
1926 – 5.56 in
1998 – 5.54 in
1971 – 5.05 in
1983 – 5.00 in

February 2015 is excluded since the month isn’t over yet. If we look at January, another month that has been rocked by lots of snow, especially in the Northeast, we see that eight of the wettest years were before 1980, and six of them were before 1960.

1979 – 10.55 in
1958 – 9.54 in
1978 – 8.12 in
1996 – 7.44 in
1987 – 7.28 in
1956 – 6.99 in
1936 – 6.46 in
1953  – 6.28 in
1935  – 6.13 in
1923 – 6.07 in

Since approximately one inch of rain is equal to about 10 inches of snow, January 2015 came in at number six for snow but number 42 for total precipitation. If we swap the precipitation totals with snow accumulation totals, the same pattern emerges: there is no pattern. Some of Boston’s snowiest winters occurred before 1970.

Also keep in mind that, over the last 50 years, our ability to measure precipitation totals, as well as snow, has advanced significantly. Record keeping was spotty, and the techniques used left much to be desired.

But barring all that aside, the only visible pattern going on in the Northeastern United States is that it’s winter, which begets snow, and that there has been no statistical global warming for the last 18 years.

In 1979, Boston got 10 inches of rain during the month of January (highest recorded) and only 10 inches of snow. If that rain had come down as snow, we would have gotten over 11 feet of snow for the entire month.

There are many factors that can converge to make an unusually high snowfall for the Northeastern United States, and global warming isn’t one of them. Colder temperatures from a cooling planet is turning what would normally be rainfall into wet, fluffy, and yes, annoying snow.