The general winter pattern emerging in the Berkshires and the Northeast over the past several years is one of less snow and warmer temperatures. Making snow is now essentially a necessity for ski areas that once relied solely upon Mother Nature. This is consistent with the results of global warming, but where does the increase in the powerful blizzards like the one that recently buried eastern Massachusetts and much of Connecticut fit into the global warming equation?
Quite nicely, according to 10 climate scientists consulted by The Associated Press this past week. Fewer but more powerful snowstorms provide further evidence of the dramatic and dangerous changes in the climate globally, and make it even more imperative that President Barack Obama’s call for concerted action in response be answered in the affirmative.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last month that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States, continuing a warming trend that coincides with increased air pollution generated by the burning of fossil fuels. A week after the NOAA report was released in January, the National Climate Assessment offered periodically by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded that "Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present." Winter weather that appears odd but is actually logical is evidence of this reality.
Annual snowfall in the Northeast has been declining and will continue to do so, according to an upcoming study by the Journal of Climate, highlights of which have been released. It’s been established that global warming produces warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere that can hold and dump more moisture. Big temperature contrasts are also consistent with global warming, and when a warm front packed with moisture collides with Arctic air, a major snowstorm results. Scientists say this is what produced the recent blizzard that left parts of New England buried under 30 or more inches of snow.
"Shorter snow season, less snow overall, but the occasional knockout punch," assessed Princeton University scientist Michael Oppenheimer, one of the climate specialists interviewed by the AP. "That’s the new world we live in."
This new world, according to the National Climate Assessment, also includes more powerful summer storms, interspersed with long dry spells as the summers grow hotter along with the winters. These storms are hazardous, and combined with the rising sea levels, threaten lives and homes along the coasts. Global warming is economically disastrous to the U.S., as the Climate Assessment report observes that corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington and maple syrup producers in Vermont have been affected by these demonstrated changes for the worse in the climate.
"The climate conversation always starts with science," says Todd Sanford, a climate scientist from the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the Climate Assessment report. Well, not always. Anti-science know-nothings continue to bury their heads in snowdrifts. The conspiracy-minded see global warming as a massive hoax perpetuated by hundreds of scientists who are not only unethical but have managed to keep their secret for decades. Others assert that global warming is just one of those realities Americans have to live with, like the occasional gun massacre.
Ideology and ignorance have held America for back for too long on the climate change issue. The United States can’t cure this problem on its own, but as a major contributor to air pollution it is obligated to try, and many of the measures Massachusetts has enacted to curb emissions can serve as a model. Decades of procrastination means that some damage cannot be undone, but there is still damage that can be prevented, and America owes it to future generations to do so.