RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
For scientists who study the climate, it's all a bit much. As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, they're trying to dig out.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: That kind of irony isn't lost on climate scientists. Most don't see a contradiction between a warming world and lots of snow. Here's Kevin Trenberth, a prominent climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.
KEVIN TRENBERTH: The fact that the oceans are warmer now than they were, say, 30 years ago, means there's about, on average, 4 percent more water vapor lurking around over the oceans than there was, say, in the 1970s.
JOYCE: Warmer water means more water vapor rises up into the air. And what goes up, must come down.
TRENBERTH: So one of the consequences of a warming ocean near a coastline like the East Coast and Washington, D.C., for instance, is that you can get dumped on with more snow, partly as a consequence of global warming.
JOYCE: And Trenberth notes that you don't need very cold temperatures to get big snow. In fact, when the mercury drops too low, it may be too cold to snow.
MONTAGNE: Trenberth also says El Nino can lock in weather patterns like a meteorological highway, so that storms keep coming down the same track. True, those storms have been big ones - record breakers. But meteorologist Jeff Masters, with the Web site Weather Underground, says it's average temperatures - not snowfall - that really measure climate change.
JEFF MASTERS: Because if it's cold enough to snow, you will get snow. We still have winter, even though the temperatures have warmed on average, oh, about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.
JOYCE: Masters and most climate scientists say a warming climate would be expected to affect the weather, sometimes drastically, but exactly where and when is hard to predict.
MASTERS: In that kind of a climate, you'll have more frequent extreme events, heat waves and so on. But again, none of those individual events is proof in itself that the climate is changing.
JOYCE: Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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