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Global Warming Increases Snowstorm Strength, But Not Frequency

The warmer the planet becomes, the more moisture the atmosphere takes up and then releases as precipitation. It may seem counterintuitive but a warming planet's winter storms can produce much more snow in the short term.

Snow depth is closely related to temperature – higher temperatures mean less snowfall overall and therefore decreased snow depth. Higher temperatures also lead to earlier melting of snow, changing snow seasons and when water from snowmelt is available. There is also a direct connection between human-caused climate change and increased occurrences of extreme cold. Specifically, warming temperatures are disrupting the polar vortex and pushing cold air into non-traditional areas.

A warmer winter doesn't mean it's sweltering like summer all season long — there will still be cold days in a warmer climate. But the cold of winter will become less frequent and less extreme. As average temperatures rise, it will leave less room for extreme cold swings. Many studies have shown that the number of extreme cold events is clearly decreasing with global warming, as predicted and understood from physical reasoning. Whether global warming may, contrary to expectations, be playing some supporting role in the intensity of these events is an open question.

Across the U.S. and in Colorado, climatologists say destructive, unusual weather is going to get more frequent.


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