Get This: Warming Planet Can Mean More Snow With snow blanketing much of the country, the topic of global warming has become the butt of jokes. But most scientists who study the climate don't see a contradiction between a warming world and lots of snow.
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Get This: Warming Planet Can Mean More Snow

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Get This: Warming Planet Can Mean More Snow

Get This: Warming Planet Can Mean More Snow

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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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