Local snow does not disprove global climate change

Even with all those Snowpocalypseses(?), NASA says that 2011 was still the ninth warmest year on record since 1880—and all but one of the top 10 warmest years have happened in the last 11 years. 1998 is third-hottest, although it's worth noting that the top six years are all close enough that they may as well be fundamentally tied for first.


  1. Queue all the usual confusion between climate and weather? People never confuse the two in normal conversation. Why all the obfuscation as soon as the possibility of climate change is mentioned?

  2. The amount of snow that a winter gets is not an indication of the overall temperature. Snow falls whenever it’s below freezing.  This is a threshold, not a spectrum.  In fact, increased snow is simply a form of increased precipitation, which is a result of a higher moisture content in the atmosphere, which is due to increased evaporation of water caused by globally higher temperatures.

    In other words, a Snowpocalypse is a sign of global warming.

    1. I know it’s funny.  Snow around here almost always means warmer temperatures, as opposed to those really freezing days in the teens/below zero when it’s almost always clear and dry.

      1. Part of the cause of that though is that cloud layers (necessary for precipitation) help hold heat near the ground, where clear skies allow more heat to escape at night.  So rather than warm temperatures causing snow, snow can, in some cases, actually itself cause warmer temperatures. 

  3. This stuff is all about the polar jet stream and the North Atlantic Oscillation.

    What freaks me out about these wind current changes is that it makes me think of what they call “squealing” in dynamics. Quick changes back and forth on the border of an attractor. From my feeling for dynamical systems, it seems like what you get when you transition from one attractor to another.  And when it comes to the climate, that  is a very bad thing because we are so far from thermodynamic equilibrium.

    1. Yes, it is. Keep an eye out also for reports of changes in ocean currents/thermohaline circulation, thawing permafrost, and ocean acidification.

  4. Locally (Wichita, KS), it has been the hottest, driest winter I can remember. Following the hottest, driest summer I can remember.  It rained a bit last night (0.05 inches), and that was the first moisture of the year. We normally have highs in the low 30s this time of year. It was 61 yesterday; it will be 50-something today and 57-ish tomorrow. We have had a couple of days of low-30s — literally two — this month, and the rest have often been in the 60s and 50s. The average high temperature for this January in Wichita has been 48°F, as opposed to our normal average of 32°F. We typically don’t get much rain in January — 0.8 inch — but that’s still 40 times what we have had so far.

  5. Extreme weather events (whether hot or cold, mega-precipitation or drought, lots of big storms or unusual lack of big storms, etc.) are always cited as being “consistent with climate change theory.”  Are there any observable weather events that are not “consistent with climate change theory?”  In other words, is there any possible observation that could falsify the hypothesis that humans are the driving force behind climate change?

    1. Yes.  If temperature for the last 40 years had shown steady temperatures on average or declining temperatures on average that would have falsified the global warming hypothesis.  Instead, those temperature records have shown temperatures increasing for the last 40 years which is indeed consistent with global warming.  Furthermore, reconstructions of global temperature based on ice cores and other data suggest that this increase is unprecedented for at least the last 500 years or so.  (We can completely ignore the proxies that were the subject of climategate, they’re not very important compared to the ice core evidence.)  Possibly much longer.

      If you’re asking if any particular observation of the weather could disprove the global warming hypothesis, no.  No particular weather event can be taken to be representative of climate, which is something like (but not exactly) the average of the weather over many years.

      1. “No particular weather event can be taken to be representative of climate, which is something like (but not exactly) the average of the weather over many years.”

        This might be the truth, but the media seems to follow the “weather for me but not for thee” theory, in which all weather events, whether cold or hot, wet or dry, are a symptom of catastrophic climate change, but NO weather event can be a symptom of the non-existence of catastrophic climate change. 

        Obviously, the theories behind climate change are settled science. But to a non-scientist, the tendency by activists to selectively use weather to their political advantage indicates a strong confirmation bias that makes the work being done by scientists suspect. 

        Tell your friends!

        1. I agree that there’s a disconnect in understanding between the general public, scientists, and activists.

          The situation you describe is part of this misunderstanding. You can pin specific weather events (increased storm activity, for example) on climate change. There’s nothing scientifically incorrect about that.

          The problem comes when you try to disprove global warming with specific weather events (and even trends). To the layman these systems are intensely counter-intuitive. Increased snow in many areas is a symptom of warming, as has been discussed in the comments here. That’s hard for many people to wrap their heads around.

          To get to the point, you simply can’t say that any specific weather disproves global warming, but you can say that specific weather is caused by global warming. This is just fundamentally how it works.

          To think otherwise simply represents ignorance and that’s the crux of the matter – scientists (and I guess activists) understand this but opponents refuse to try to understand.

          Of course, not all specific weather events are caused by global warming – we’ve always had weather. That’s why scientists and activists will pick and choose when they bring up examples of events caused by global warming. Picking and choosing examples is not always good science, but in this case (and in more cases than you might think) it’s perfectly fine.

        2. But to a non-scientist, the tendency by activists to selectively use weather to their political advantage indicates a strong confirmation bias that makes the work being done by scientists suspect.

          The media are not activists.  The activists are not media.

          What you are complaining about is media companies trying to turn weather into news.  Weather is usually boring but by trying to tie it in to larger themes media companies can get people more excited about it.  Don’t blame me or “my friends” for sensationalistic journalism, blame the journalists and their employers.

    2. Yes. Here are several of the many ways that could happen.

      1. Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels begin to drop despite what humans emit.

      2. Global average temperatures consistently fall for at least decade back to or below historical averages, in a way that is not adequately explained by changes in human emissions/atmospheric concectrations of any pollutants. Keep in mind that the last decade, when all those records for high temperature years were set? They happened during an unusually quiet solar minimum.

      3. Over the next 40 years or so, global average temperatures do not measurably increase. Predicted changes in rainfall patterns, ocean currents, ocean acidity, and arctic ice coverage do not occur.

      4. Someone comes up for a scientifically testable explanation (and then tests it) for where all the human-emitted CO2 is going, if that is not the same CO2 that is raising atmospheric levels, and how rising CO2 levels are going to manage not to raise global temperatures, despite CO2 being transparent at optical frequencies but not infrared. This explanation must work better than/work just as well as but be simpler than the current models and evidence that do indicate climate change.

      Any of these would be a serious challenge to climate change predictions. Go ahead, falsify the theory. The world will thank you (I certainly would).

  6. But a warm year does not indicate the catastrophic global warming we are told about.
    It indicates that the climate is warming, but that could still be natural or mildly driven by human action – it does not mean that we are all going to die and the world is going to be destroyed.

    The climate has been far warmer than it is now without human intervention, climate has fluctuated massively and the world has survived.

    Skeptics question the prophesies of doom and questionable methodologies, not that climate changes and not that  CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Not even that there is a current warming trend.

    (yes, I know, there are some who believe that all climate science is total rubbish, but there are people who believe all sorts of nonsense, but that doesn’t mean anyone who asks questions is an idiot).

    1. Deniers say:
      1. Global warming doesn’t exist and if it does:
      2.Global warming is natural – not man-made, and if it is man-made:
      3: There’s nothing we can do about it, and if there was:
      4: You wouldn’t trust governments to do anything about it.

      So you’re adding:
      1a. global warming is not nearly as bad as we thought, but if it is:

      Like that helps.

    2. Skeptics question the prophesies of doom and questionable methodologies, not that climate changes and not that  CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Not even that there is a current warming trend.

      They challenged the warming trend.  They still do as far as I know.  Even last year I was still hearing the lie (left over from 2008) that there “has been no warming in the last 10 years.” 

      Some “skeptics” have decided to shift the goalposts now that the actual recorded warming has outstripped most of the IPCC’s projections for the last decade.  But let’s not pretend that’s new either.  kjh’s summary is correct, every time “skeptics” are demonstrated to be wrong about something they move to a new argument.  “It won’t be that bad” is just another one of those.

      Evidence suggests it’s already getting bad.  Glaciologists are recording unprecedented rates of melt, a major ice sheet in Antarctica has already broken up and at least one more is on its way.  The glaciers are a huge problem considering how much of the world’s irrigation and potable water are provided by glacial runoff.  There’s a thousand other things that can go wrong so at least a few of them probably will.  This is the biggest risk management problem the human race has faced since the Cold War.  I’m glad you’re feeling optimistic but maybe you should leave policy to the steely-eyed pragmatists.

  7. What do geese flying south over Boston in January say about climate change?

    Squonk, squonk. Direct quote from 20 minutes ago.

  8. Personally, I’m disappointed by climate change because I have collected several amazing wool sweaters from thrift stores over the past couple years but it’s almost never cold enough to wear them – here in Buffalo, NY which is famous for its snow. Nor in NYC, where I go fairly frequently.

    It’s disappointing because I only really gained appreciation for sweaters as being stylish in the past few years – when I lived in California and spent a lot of time in Thailand, neither places where I can wear a sweater without dying of heat.

    Growing up here in Buffalo and going to university in Rochester it was intensely cold winter after winter. I moved to a warm climate and now that I’m back and wish to take advantage of the cold in order to be stylish, I can’t :(

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