Climate warming could cut overall snowfall substantially in the Northern Hemisphere in coming decades, but don’t toss your snow shovel or car chains just yet — blizzards will still be with us, according to new research. Paul A. O’Gorman, an associate professor at MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, looked at daily snowfall across the hemisphere using models to project climate change over 100 years. The study was published in Nature.
He found that global warming would affect snowfall extremes less than it did average snowfall. Low-elevation regions might see a 65 percent overall decrease in snowfall, yet only an 8 percent decline in the amount of snow deposited in the most extreme events. What’s more, in higher-latitude or higher-elevation regions, more snow might fall in extreme events, even as average overall snowfall declined.
All this is because extreme snowfall generally comes in a relatively narrow and high temperature range when there’s plenty of moisture in the air. O’Gorman cautions against trying to say what his research means for Midwest and Northeast cities slammed by significant snowstorms last winter. “From year to year, there tends to be a lot variability in snowfall,” he said.
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— Gil Aegerter