Study: Global Warming Will Reduce Overall Snow, Won't End Blizzards

Aug 28, 2014 11:16 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Even if global warming reduces overall snowfall, the change won't result in snowstorms that are less fierce, according to a new study.

While shoveling the same amount of snow doesn't sound fun, the news is promising for those concerned about climate change since the roughest snowstorms should approximately match past records, Live Science reported.   

"Snowfall extremes don't respond very strongly to climate change," said lead study author Paul O'Gorman, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who used computer simulation to predict snowfall scenarios in the U.S. through year 2100. His findings have been published in the journal Nature.

Intense snowfall requires a perfect storm of the ideal temperature, which O'Gorman put at about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the right wind speeds and a certain amount of moisture in the air. If the weather is too warm, snow will become rain, while cold air won't hold enough moisture for a snowstorm.  

"Snowfall extremes prefer a temperature range right around freezing, and they will continue to occur at about the same temperature," O'Gorman told Live Science. "This is consistent with what we know about the basic physics about how snowfall depends on temperature."

O'Gorman found through his snowfall simulations that areas with typically intense snowfall will only see around an 8 percent decrease in snow during the heaviest storms. Higher latitudes will actually see 10 percent more snow during the roughest storms, while areas that generally don't get much snow will be even less likely to have historic snowfall.

Overall, the study found that global warming is expected to affect extreme snowstorms less than it will average snowfall, NBC News reported. For regions with low elevation, snowfall may decrease 65 percent overall, compared with the minor 8 percent decrease expected for the most intense snowfall events.

The author noted that his research may or may not be yet applicable to the tumultuous snowstorms that hit Midwest and Northeast cities over the winter.

"From year to year, there tends to be a lot variability in snowfall," said O'Gorman, as quoted by NBC News. 

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