VT Snow Storms Have Connection with Global Warming

Mr. Grayson Moore

HINESBURG, VT– With all the recent winter storms and snow days that the Chittenden County area has recently experienced, some seem to be skeptical of the idea that the Earth is actually warming.

According to the National Weather Service, the Burlington area just experienced its greatest snowfall in the month of January since 2010 (41.3 inches) and only the second instance of 40+ inches of snow in January in the past 40 years.

Color-coded map showing how average air temperatures changed across the United States from 1901 to 2015.

Image from EPA.gov

However, the notion that snowstorms disprove the concept that the world is getting warmer is misguided and simply false, based on the statistics on climate and weather changes.

According to the 2017 Climate Science Special Report, “global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the last 115 years.” This report also states that the planet is in the warmest period “in the history of modern civilization.” The report notes that the global average sea level has risen by 7-8 inches since 1900, with almost half of that growth coming since 1993.

The temperature changes have been seen in Vermont as well. According to Burlington International Airport’s weather data, from 1976 to 2018, the average temperature in the month of February has increased by an average of 0.11° Fahrenheit every year. Interestingly enough, across the same time period, the average snowfall accumulation during every February has increased on average by 0.277 inches every year. In fact, the average monthly snowfall from 1998 to 2018 was 5.08 inches higher than the monthly average from 1977 to 1997, according to the National Weather Service.

CVU Climate/Weather and Science teacher Rick Imes said this seemingly peculiar behavior can be explained.

“With the added heat in the atmosphere comes the warming of the air and the oceans,” Imes stated. “That means that there is more evaporation [taking place], and more moisture is in the air. [In colder climates], that leads to bigger snowfalls as well as more rainfall.”

According to Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists, “for every 1° F increase in temperature, the atmosphere can hold around 4 percent more water vapor.” That leads to increased rainfall in warmer climates and more snowfall in climates with freezing temperatures.

With increased rainfall also comes increased flooding. According to a 2018 report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, a group made up of leading scientists from around the EU, “hydrological events” such as floods have increased by over 400% globally since 1980. According to National Geographic, floods are the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters in North America.

Irregularities in the jet stream, a high-speed ribbon of air currents at the border between atmospheric cells, and the polar vortex can also impact the climate and snow level in the North East, according to Imes. “Warming of the water at the North Pole causes more cold air around the boundary between the northern hemisphere and [the North East],” Imes explained.

“A polar vortex is a low-pressure area—a wide expanse of swirling cold air—that is parked in polar regions,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. This happens because the polar vortex is disturbed by the warmer waters and surface temperatures at the poles, as well as irregularities in the jet stream that may be linked to climate change according to a research article by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Although it sounds contradictory, climate change is actually linked to extreme cold weather spells throughout the Northern United States and increased amounts of snowfall and overall precipitation during the winter season.

Increased snowfall from time to time will not be the only consequence of global warming in Vermont, according to Imes. “Warmer weather [around] the equator pushes precipitation further North, which changes biomes,” Imes stated. “Biomes from the South are pushed North, [and because of that], we could lose maple trees. Depending on how quickly the climate changes, [the maple trees] might not have time to migrate [North], because maple trees don’t migrate very quickly. Organisms need time to move to remain [alive].”

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Vermont produced 1.98 million gallons of maple syrup in 2017, more than double any other states’ output and 46.4% of the United States’ maple syrup output. In the same year, the state made 53.46 million dollars from the sale of maple syrup.

Losing that industry would be a big blow to Vermont’s economy and the United States as a whole, as based on the core economic principles of supply and demand, maple syrup prices in this scenario would skyrocket around the United States.

While it may seem strange for global warming and increased snowfall in Vermont to exist simultaneously, climate change has an indirect impact on snowfall in the Northern United States. Unfortunately for people in Vermont, the United States, and around the globe, that is the least of its impact.

The Earth needs to be kept sustainable and livable for future generations, so working to prevent the increase in temperature is crucial. Whether that means carpooling, getting solar panels for homes, writing to local senators and house representatives about bills concerning the environment, anything is helpful in slowing climate change. The global collective needs to work together to prevent or slow climate change, not just to prevent occasional cold spells in the winter, the loss of maple trees, or anything else, but for the good of life around the planet.

For information on how to reduce your carbon footprint, visit cotap.org/reduce-carbon-emissions/.