New York Gov: Incoming Monster Blizzard Is Part of a Pattern We've 'Never Seen Before'

Massive snowstorms such as the one sweeping into the US north-east on Monday are “part of the changing climate”, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, declared at a press conference announcing a state of emergency.

Cuomo said on Monday that “there is a pattern of extreme weather that we’ve never seen before” – reiterating his comments in the wake of hurricane Sandy,when he said that “anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns is probably denying reality.”

“We have to find ways to build this city back stronger and better than every before,” the governor said in 2012.

Despite the protestations of climate change deniers that extreme cold weather must mean global warming is not real, a single storm cannot be taken as evidence of anything with regard to climate: weather is not the climate.

But Cuomo was referring to how increasingly intense storms fit “a pattern of extreme weather” – and that pattern evinces the reality of climate change. As the globe continues to heat up over the long term – 2014 was the hottest year on earthsince human beings started keeping records – more and more energy enters the atmosphere, charging it for extreme events.

The atmosphere’s qualities vary hugely around the world – depending on geography, weather events like El Niño and the interaction of other factors. So the outcome of what all that charged energy actually does can vary from year to year, too. But one of the most likely consequences of this buildup of energy is a pattern of extreme weather events: not necessarily more storms, hurricanes, droughts and blizzards, but a pattern of increasingly dangerous and intense weather events.

Climate change could actually lead to more blizzards and less snow, since a warm atmosphere – full of energy and moisture soaked up by all that charged air – dumps more snow in brief, severe bursts. So while overall accumulation of snow may decrease, the frequency of intense storms may increase. This looks especially likely to happen as areas where snow should fall, in places like the Arctic, Andes glaciers and mountains around the world, rapidly lose snow due to global warming; and then that same snow deluges another part of the world as a brutal rain or snowstorm.

Like a broken pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, faster each year and increasingly threatening to break off on the hot side of the continuum, climate change could produce increasingly severe weather events every year: not just hurricanes and droughts but unstable polar wind systems let loose on the east coast by heat, cold “bomb cyclones” striking Texas, and torrential rain in the south-east while California dries out completely.

Extreme precipitation – a weather event – is hard to link directly to climate change, but Cuomo has a viable point: cold weather records decrease every year, even as evidence quickly mounts that the heat in the atmosphere is making storms more intense and making both the climate and the weather more chaotic.

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