Record ‘Lake Effect’ Snowfall Blamed On Global Warming, But It’s Not That Simple

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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As towns along the Great Lakes sit under massive amounts of snow, some are debating the connections between notorious “lake effect” snowfall and manmade global warming.

Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe took to Twitter to bring up the potential connections between manmade global warming and Great Lakes snowfall, also known as “lake effect snowfall.”

Hayhoe’s thread was sparked by record amounts of snow pummeling the town of Erie, Penn. Erie got 5 feet of snow in two days due to the “lake effect” from Lake Erie.

How does this happen? Basically, cold air moving across the lakes picks up water vapor from warmer waters. All that warmer water vapor moves up through the air, freezes, then comes down as snow.

One factor in the “lake effect” is Great Lakes ice coverage. Hayhoe claimed there’s been an uptick in Great Lakes snowfall as sea ice coverage shrinks because of global warming. This year, Hayhoe says manmade warming exacerbated natural climate trends that played a role in Great Lakes snowfall.

Indeed, there has been an increase in Great Lakes snowfall. Hayhoe also said “[f]or 15 of the last 20 years, Great Lakes ice cover has been below the long-term average.” Hayhoe bolstered her argument with a graphic from the environmental group Climate Central showing an increase in lake effect snow.

Though lake effect snow seems to have peaked 30 to 40 years ago based on Climate Central’s graphic — which is particularly unhelpful because it lacks a detailed X-axis — current lake effect snow is above 1930s levels, but below where it was decades ago.

Moreover, Canadian scientists found just a few years ago that “[f]rom 1981 to 2010 there was no statistically significant trend in the amount of ice coverage.” meteorologist Ryan Maue responded to claims made by Hayhoe and others, connecting manmade warming to lake effect snow. He said the science just isn’t there when it comes to attributing Erie’s snowfall to a warming world.


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