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Some Snow Science

The Day After The October Snow (10/30/11)

The Day After The October Snow (10/30/11)

[Update # 7 – Another snow job by the Star Ledger today:

atmospheric patterns, including the Pacific phenomenon known as La Nina, have conspired to make this an unusually icy winter in Alaska and have kept it abnormally warm in parts of the lower 48 states accustomed to more snow.


David Robinson, NJ State Climatologist (...one the one hand ...) (8/25/10)

David Robinson, NJ State Climatologist (…on one hand …) (8/25/10)

So where is State Climatologist David Robinson, who claims to be a world class snow expert?

Update # 6 – 1/4/12 – Forget update #5 – just 6 days later, Star Ledger, late to the game, reports that it looks like NJ State Climatologist David Robinson is firmly back in the equivocation camp (boldface mine):

The combination of warmer and wetter weather may not be coincidence, either.

Earlier this year, Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report contending that global warming is causing more extreme weather events.

While he said the topic still needs far more study, temperature and weather extremes in the United States in recent years are beginning to make Robinson a believer.

Update #5 – 12/30/11 – Well, what do you know! No La Nina, and no “North Atlantic oscillation” – Jim O’Neil’s Bergen Record story gets Dave Robinson on the record linking extreme weather and global warming (no caveats)!

Update #4 – 12/27/11 – Editors at the Star Ledger must be scientifically challenged or oblivious – now it’s just “wild and wacky weather!”

Update #3  12/26/11- The New York Times just had a climate change epiphany!

They seem to have discovered that it’s all about politics!:

At the end of one of the most bizarre weather years in American history, climate research stands at a crossroads.

Scientists say they could, in theory, do a much better job of answering the question “Did global warming have anything to do with it?” after extreme weather events like the drought in Texas and the floods in New England.

But for many reasons, efforts to put out prompt reports on the causes of extreme weather are essentially languishing. Chief among the difficulties that scientists face: the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile, and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight.

And so, as the weather becomes more erratic by the year, the public is left to wonder what is going on.

Right! Imaging that: the public is wondering what is going on? Maybe if the NY Times told the story, even if 25 years too late!

The Republican party is paying no price for ideological extremism, hostage taking, and denial of basic science:

This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.

Update #2 – 12/25/11: Going way beyond denial, there is secrecy and national security. So check this out: in 2009, the CIA established  a Center on Climate Change and National Security. The role of the Center:

Its charter is not the science of climate change, but the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources. The Center will provide support to American policymakers as they negotiate, implement, and verify international agreements on environmental issues.-

Despite the public policy role, the CIA just denied a FOIA request on the basis that ALL the records were secret – see:  At CIA, Climate Change is a Secret]

[Update #1: 12/24/11 The denial on global warming is almost comical at this point.

Yesterday it was La Nina – but, hey snow lovers, don’t you worry your pretty little head over that global warming stuff. In today’s news story we see snow coming soon via a weakening of the “north atlantic oscillation”!:

The reason for the potential snowy shift resides in Greenland.

A semi-permanent low-pressure system near Greenland, part of a weather phenomenon known as Northern Atlantic Oscillation, could weaken over the next several days. This is commonly referred to as the oscillation “going negative.”  – end update]

Just read the Star Ledger’s page one story on lack of snow for skiing: At ski resorts, warm winter threatens snow-centered business

[ in a perfect illustration of the pack behavior of the media, the NY Times runs the same story – Did the ski industry issue a press release or something?]

Of course, no mention whatsoever of global warming. Instead, we get the typical La Nina “cause” (practically the only “climate phenomenon” we hear about):

While ski slopes in the West got a wealth of early season snow, the outlook back East is uncertain with January around the corner.

That’s partly due to La Nina, a climate phenomenon that tends to bring warmer than average temperatures to the northeastern U.S. throughout the winter, according to the National Weather Service.

So, for all you snow lovers out there, I thought I’d provide some “balance” on the science:

Here are relevant key findings from the impact assessment of the Union of Concerned Scientists Report: Confronting Climate Change in the US Northeast: Science, Impacts, and Solutions (@ page 81)

Chapter 8 Impacts on Winter Recreation

Global warming is projected to profoundly affect winter recreation and tourism in the northeast as winter temperatures continue to rise and snow cover declines, especially under the higher- emissions scenario.

Warmer winters would also shorten the average ski and snowboard seasons, increase snow- making requirements, and drive up operating costs (particularly under the higher-emissions scenario). this may prompt further closures and consolidation of ski areas northward toward the canadian border.

Under the higher-emissions scenario, only the northern new england states and the north country of new york are projected to support viable ski operations by mid-century. by the latter part of the century, only western maine is projected to retain a reliable ski season under the higher-emissions scenario.

Under the lower-emissions scenario, reliable ski seasons can be expected through this century in the north country of new york and parts of vermont and new hampshire, in addition to western maine.

These projections may be conservative, as the climate models used in this analysis have consistently underestimated the rapid winter warming and snowpack decline observed in recent decades.


As the Northeast’s climate changes, so will the length and quality of its outdoor-recreation seasons. Winter snow and ice sports, which are worth some $7.6 bil- lion annually to the regional economy, will be partic- ularly affected.1 Of this total, alpine skiing and other snow sports (not including snowmobiling) account for $4.6 billion annually.2 Snowmobiling, which now rivals skiing as the largest winter recreation indus- try in the United States, accounts for the remaining $3 billion.3,4,5 Other winter traditions, ranging from skating and ice fishing on frozen ponds and lakes to cross-country (Nordic) skiing, snowshoeing, and dogsledding, are integral to the character of the Northeast and, for many, its quality of life.

Global warming is projected to bring about a dramatic decline in the average number of snow- covered winter days across the Northeast, especially under the higher-emissions scenario. By the end of the century the northern part of the region is con- servatively projected to have lost up to one-quarter of its snow-covered days under the lower-emissions scenario and more than half of its snow-covered days under the higher-emissions scenario.6 (See the climate chapter.) Winter activities such as snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sled- ding that depend primarily on natural snow cover will be most vulnerable to this decline.

Most previous assessments of the vulnerability of winter recreation to global warming have not ex- amined the impacts on snowmobiling or the abil- ity of the ski industry to adapt through increased snowmaking. These factors were, however, primary considerations in this assessment of the Northeast’s winter recreation/tourism sector.7 Ski resorts in the region have invested heavily in snowmaking tech- nology over the past two decades to address year- to-year variations in natural snowfall and extend the skiing season. By the 2004 – 2005 ski season, 75 percent of the Northeast’s skiable terrain had been augmented with snowmaking equipment, which allowed resorts to extend their seasons compared with the 1980’s despite winters in the 1990s that were the warmest on record.

A recent study of winter recreation in New Hampshire over the past two decades of highly variable snowfall found (not surprisingly) that more people participate in outdoor recreation when winters are cold and snowy.8 Tourism earns the state $4 billion a year, and although winter visitors represent less than one-quarter of all tourists, they spend almost 19 per- cent more per day than the average tourist because of the expensive natures of skiing and snowmobil- ing. Winters with above-average snowfall attract 14 percent more alpine skiers, 30 percent more Nordic skiers, and 26 percent more resident snowmobilers (i.e., those buying snowmobile licenses) to New Hampshire’s winter recreation areas, largely concen- trated in the northern part of the state. This in turn translates into an extra $13 million in ski-lift tickets and snowmobile registration fees. Snowy winters also generate about 3,000 more jobs in the state than less snowy ones.9

The overall impact of climate change on the Northeast’s tourism economy will of course depend not only on declining winter recreation opportuni- ties but also on potentially expanding opportunities for many warm-season activities such as golfing, hik- ing, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, boating, fishing, and beach use. In 2006, for example, New Hampshire purchased 7,500 acres of land to establish a state- run ATV park (one of the few north of Pennsylva- nia).10 Such developments may provide a glimpse of the recreation-tourism sector’s future responses to unavoidable warming.

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