The memory of last winter's blizzards may be fading in this summer's searing heat, but scientists studying them have detected a perfect storm of converging weather patterns that had little relation to climate change.
The extraordinarily cold, snowy weather that hit parts of the U.S. East Coast and Europe was the result of a collision of two periodic weather patterns in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds.
It was the snowiest winter on record for Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia, where more than six feet of snow fell over each. After a blizzard shut down the nation's capital, skeptics of global warming used the frozen landscape to suggest that manmade climate change did not exist, with the family of conservative senator James Inhofe posing next to an igloo labeled "Al Gore's new home."
After analyzing 60 years of snowfall measurements, a team of scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory found that the anomalous winter was caused by two colliding weather events. El Niño, the cyclic warming of the tropical Pacific, brought wet weather to the southeastern U.S. at the same time that a strong negative phase in a pressure cycle called the North Atlantic Oscillation pushed frigid air from the arctic down the East Coast and across northwest Europe. End result: more snow.Using a different dataset, climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came to a similar conclusion in a report released in March.
In spite of last winter's snow, the decade 2000-2009 was the warmest on record, with 2009 tying a cluster of other recent years as the second warmest single year. Earth's climate has warmed 0.8°C (1.5°F) on average since modern record keeping began, and this past June was the warmest ever recorded.
While the heavy snow on the East Coast and northwest Europe dominated headlines this winter, the Great Lakes and western Canada actually saw less snow than usual—typical for an El Niño year, said Seager. Warm and dry weather in the Pacific Northwest forced the organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver to lug in snow by truck and helicopter to use on ski and snowboarding slopes. The arctic also saw warmer weather than usual, but fewer journalists were there to take notes.
"If Fox News had been based in Greenland they might have had a different story," said Seager.
While El Niño can now be predicted months in advance by monitoring slowly evolving conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, the North Atlantic Oscillation— the difference in air pressure between the Icelandic and Azores regions—is a mostly atmospheric phenomenon, very chaotic and difficult to anticipate, said Yochanan Kushnir, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty and co-author of the study.
The last time the North Atlantic experienced a strong negative phase, in the winter of 1995-1996, the East Coast was also hammered with above average snowfall. This winter, the North Atlantic Oscillation was even more negative--a state that happens less than 1 percent of the time, said Kushnir.
"The events of last winter remind us that the North Atlantic Oscillation, known mostly for its impact on European and Mediterranean winters, is also playing a potent role in its backyard in North America," he said.
David Robinson, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the research, said the study fills an important role in educating the public about the difference between freak weather events and human-induced climate change.
"When the public experiences abnormal weather, they want to know what's causing it," he said. "This paper explains what happened, and why global warming was not really involved. It helps build credibility in climate science."
Project web page: Northern hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10
The other authors of the study are: Jennifer Nakamura, Mingfang Ting and Naomi Naik, all at Lamont-Doherty.
Copies of the paper, "Northern hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10," are available from the authors or Geophysical Research Letters, email@example.com.
Kim Martineau | EurekAlert!
As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation
29.03.2017 | University of Hawaii at Manoa
Researchers discover dust plays prominent role in nutrients of mountain forest ecoystems
29.03.2017 | University of Wyoming
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
30.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
30.03.2017 | Studies and Analyses
30.03.2017 | Life Sciences