Did the Snow Storm That Socked the Northeast Have Ties to Climate Change?

An estimated 664,000 residents from Maine to Pennsylvania are without power this weekend after a massive snowstorm swept the Northeast. “Wet, heavy snow and high winds snapped power lines in eight states,” including Massachusetts which saw “17 to 28 inches” of snow in some areas of the state. Connecticut has more than 38 inches of snow with “82-mph wind gusts,” while more than two feet of snow was reported on Long Island. Whole communities have been evacuated, and governors declared states of emergency in four states.

“At least six deaths were blamed on the storm, including three in Canada,” the Associated Press reports. “One pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and killed Friday night in Prospect, Conn., and a 23-year-old New York man plowing his driveway with a farm tractor went off the edge of the road and was killed, police in those states said.”

Climate scientists speculate that the amount of snow and the ferocity of the storm, named Nemo, may well have ties to global warming. As Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained to Climate Progress’ Joe Romm, “ingredients for a big snow storm include temperatures just below freezing” and moisture.

“In the past temperatures at this time of year would have been a lot below freezing but the ability to hold moisture in the atmosphere goes down by 7% per degree C (4% per deg F), and so in the past we would have had a snow storm but not these amounts.” Global warming has also raised sea surface temperatures by about two degrees Fahrenheit since before 1980, increasing the moisture flow into the storm and adding “about 10% to the potential for a big snow.”

“Storms like this tend to be heavier than they used to be,” Michael Oppenheimer, a climate change expert at Princeton University, told the Huffington Post. “That’s a fact.”

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