Your opinions as to just how historic the great snowstorm of 2015 was probably vary greatly depending on where you are. If you’re in New England there may be a sense of “we’ll dig ourselves out eventually; while in NYC it’s more of a “wha, that’s it?” Yes, as ever, recent extreme weather patterns may be a result of climate change, and scientists believe that this—and future—winter storms have and will hit greater extremes as the result of a warming planet.


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And as for your opinions about why there was such a crazy storm, that probably depends on whether you fall on the Donald Trump and Sarah Palin  side of the climate change argument, or side with Bill McKibben, Andrew Cuomo and other followers of that cultish genre known as ‘science.’

To start with a fact all of us can agree on: snow is moisture. More moisture, at cold temperatures means more snow. And warmer air holds more moisture. We experience an 4 percent increase in moisture for every 1°F that the planet warms. And since the start of the 20th century, the planet has warmed by 1.6 degrees on average—and is expected to rise another 0.5°F to 9°F by 2100, according to the IPCC.

This year, as a result of warmer temperatures over the Atlantic, there was, in total, 10 percent more moisture in the air. Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained to the Guardian that with this increase in moisture “you can easily get as much as 20 percent more snow out of a storm than you would otherwise, as long as it is cold enough so that all of that moisture gets converted into snow. And that is usually the case in the wintertime.”

Related: Concluding IPCC report warns of irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change

And this latest, aggressive nor’easter is part of a pattern: according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment report we have seen a 70 percent increase in heavy storms in the Northeast over the last six decades. Eventually, we will see a drop off in these winter storms due to warming, but until that time, we are likely to see greater extremes in the severity of the storms.

And severe, wet, windy storms carry with them a risk of flooding and storm surges. And this, says Climate Central, is our greatest threat. “Such floods are even more likely due to the 1 foot of sea level rise off the Northeast since 1900, due in part to the expansion of warming ocean waters, as well as ice melt. So while the future of snow in the northeast is still uncertain, the future of storm surge flooding is much clearer.”

Via Climate Central

Lead image via Wikimedia Commons, second image via MTA on Flickr