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Should Have Been Snow

Weather forecasters are all a-dither about the “massive” snowstorm predicted for the Northeast this Saturday. Actually, one group of predictive models indicates the storm will pass far enough south to spare much of Southern New England, while a second model predicts it will wallop the entire region. Naturally, the media is hyping the latter, but as I write this it is even possible that for us it could blow harmlessly out to sea.

If the brewing storm strikes, it really should be the second of a one-two punch. That’s because last weekend’s rainstorm should have been a snowstorm. For those unfamiliar with Southern New England weather, we get lots of snow, but also plenty of rain in January. A rainstorm at my house at this time of year is far from extraordinary. To oversimplify the situation, that is because storm centers either pass to the north or south of us. If the center passes to our north, the counter-clockwise winds that circulate around low pressure draw warmer wet air from the Altantic over our region resulting in rain. When the center passes to the south, as in the classic Nor’easter, the same circulation draws in colder air from the Gulf of Maine and Quebec. In mid-winter this causes snowstorms.

In over fifty years of following weather, this is the first time I’ve seen what just happened late last week. A powerful storm developed off the mid Atlantic Coast and the storm center passed to the south of us. The winds shifted to the Northeast and North, but rain, not snow, fell the entire time. That’s because the temperatures over land were so mild and the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine was unusually warm. In fact, the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean is now 6 degrees warmer than it usually is at this time of year. I can’t imagine the amount of additional energy that has to be absorbed by sea waters to elevate the temperature that much over a thousand-mile stretch of ocean. That is a sobering indicator of global warming induced climate change.

Twenty, even ten years ago, what happened last weekend would have buried my house under a foot or more of snow. Now, we’d be bracing for another foot or two on top of that. Dealing with it would be rough, but such double-barreled snow dumps happen around here most winters, so we know how to cope.

Whenever such storms hit, they are a giant pain in the ass and last weekend’s rainstorm was easier to deal with than snow would have been. But as a weather nerd who understands its implications for our future, I find last weekend’s cold nasty rain much more worrisome than a massive snowstorm on the horizon.  Read More 
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