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

Stronger winter storms are the indirect result of global warming-

There are a lot of people who tend to think snowy weather means there is no global warming (they tend to watch Fox News). Actually, the opposite is true, at least under the current level of warming.

What does a blizzard on the U.S. East Coast mean for global warming? By David Biello. Scientific American.






  1. JimT Avatar

    My friends on the East Coast are just shaking their heads at the topsy turvy weather they are having, and voicing opinions that they have never seen it as variable as it has been the last several years. This is part of the package that goes with general warming of the earth and oceans…weather fluctuations of an extreme nature.

    I think “global warming” was, in hindsight, not a very good catch phrase for this development. “Climate Change” would have been much better to have as a term of art, and more reflective of what is going on, including a warming of the planet. Every time something like this happens, it brings out the minority of folks who want to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence…

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Jim T,

      I agree that climate change is a better description, although when the steady rise in temperatures was first noted I think a lot of scientists had relatively simple mental models of the effects. Most people still do have simple models, e.g., like a pot of water sitting on a hot place of the stove.

      A couple years ago, I first read of the predictions of some formal models that melting the Arctic Ocean would increase high and maybe mid-latitude snow and replace the normally dry snow with heavy (warmer), wet snow.

      It seems to me to be similar to the well known “lake effect snow” that is seen downwind of the Great Lakes and many other places in the world where cold winter winds blow over unfrozen water.

    2. PointsWest Avatar

      We had record high temps here in So Cal a couple of weeks ago. It was 86 one day here in Culver City where it seldom breaks 90 even in summer. I took the kids to the park and it was too warm. This was mid December.

      The predictions have always been for more extreme weather. It is easy to understand why. Since the warming is driven by solar radiation, the heat absorption differences between the equator (where the sun shines all year) and the poles (where there is no sun in winter) is going to be greater. Since heat energy tends to flux or disperse, this greater differential in heat absorption between equator and pole is going mean more heat energy fluxing or dispersing to the cooler parts of the globe creating more weather. We may also see more wind and more strong winds.

      Also, where the oceans are warming, they will evaporate more moisture into the air. Where the air is warmer, it will hold more moisture until it is cooled. Moist air becomes unstable whenever it cools and preciptiates water. With global warming, we have more moist air and a greater differential in solar heat absorption between the equator and poles. More warm moist air will be moving north and/or south and cooling off and creating more weather. Expect record rainfall or snowfall in some areas.

      This east coast blizzard was not especially cold was it? It was just snowy and a deep trough in the jetstream (a form of wind) pushed the snowy weather far south for a short time.

  2. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Where I grew up you could count on a week to 10 days of -20 degree weather every January, followed by the January thaw and the accompanied Chinooks. it was a yearly topic on the weather segment of the news. then came the snow month of February.

    doesn’t happen any more. changed within my lifetime. the deniers do not get it. the change is not happening over the course of centuries; it is happening over the course of decades.
    stay tuned

  3. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    One place where climate change skeptics seem vanishingly scarce is on the Arctic coast. Maybe Fox News isn’t watched as much up there, but anybody of much age and regardless of political outlook seems to be able to quickly rattle off a dozen or so substantial changes they’ve noticed ranging from shorter sea ice coverage and increased fall storm surges eating up the limited land mass around their homes on barrier islands to striking increases in vegetation growth and a litany of previously unheard-of animal species showing up — king crab, salmon, killer whales, etc.

  4. Bryanto Avatar

    We’ve seen stark evidence down here in the lower 48 too,namely vast outbreaks of Bark Beetles deforesting entire mountain ranges. That has never happened before on that scale,just small local outbreaks. The deniers are really just ignorers, or more accurately, ignorant. That all being said,nobody knows how this is going to play out on the ground in any one spot.

  5. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    Tonight on MSNBC they articulated Fred Upton- the Chair of the Energy Committee with his 180 degree reversal from wanting carbon reduction legislation to “we are not convinced” op ed pieces with Tim Philips. The idiot sons will be laughing all the way to the bank. The scary thing is that I’m not sure the American public is smart enough to force the Republicans to pay a political price for these obvious egregious political manuverings at our expense. All I see is that polar bear cub having the seizure.

  6. Mike Avatar

    Another indicator is the rampant spread of ticks. Warm winters have allowed for proliferation of these insects in the upper midwest and northeastern states.

  7. david Avatar

    Wait, wait, wait. This snow storm was not of epic proportion. This was not some crazy anomaly in terms of east coast weather, with the exception of maybe Florida getting a tougher cold than usual… but even that is not unprecedented.

    Here, out east, nobody was saying “gee it’s snowing, global warming is a hoax.” But quite the opposite is happening, right here, right now. The climate is changing, no doubt, but the climate change crowd needs to stop overcompensating by banging the gong every time we have some weather, hot or cold.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan