Global warming can cause record winter storms. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s no snow job. When the oceans warm, more water evaporates into the air.

MANN: “And what that means is there’s more precipitation. Water is cycling more vigorously through the atmosphere, and that gives us more extreme weather.”

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That’s Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Penn State University. He says in summer, an unusually warm ocean can strengthen storms like Hurricane Irene… but in winter, the evaporation from a warm ocean collides with cold arctic air and turns to snow.

As seawater evaporates, it also releases additional energy into the atmosphere. This extra energy then fuels storms, making them more intense.

This past winter, a large area of the North Atlantic was much warmer than usual — which Mann says contributed to the record Nor’easters that buried parts of New England in snow.

MANN: “So climate change is actually providing more energy to intensify these nor’easters, and it’s providing more moisture so that they can convert that moisture into record snowfalls.”

2014 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean surface. So New England, get your shovels ready for more extreme snow in coming years.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Shoveling snow off a parked car on a Boston city street after the blizzard. Copyright protected.

More Resources
What the massive snowfall in Boston tells us about global warming
Experts: Climate Change May Make Northeast Winter Storms Worse
As Boston’s Crazy Snow Keeps Falling, Scientists Weigh In On Climate Impact
2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment

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