Quote: The Future of ‘Epic Blizzards’ in a Warming World

Climate Central


MIT climate researcher Paul O’Gorman reviewed a 2014 study he conducted that is one of the few to look at extreme snowfalls and warming. Speaking before a group of scientists during a talk at Columbia University, he detailed his use of climate models to look at how extreme snowfalls might change as the planet heats up....

O’Gorman found that while both average annual snow amounts and extreme snowfalls would decline as temperatures rose, the extremes didn’t drop off as rapidly. Effectively, extreme snowfalls would become a bigger proportion of all snow events.

The reason for this disparity, O’Gorman found, has to do with the very particular temperature conditions in which extreme snows occur, sort of like a frozen version of the Goldilocks tale: If it’s too warm, you get rain, not snow, but if it’s too cold, there won’t be enough moisture in the air to fuel a full-on blizzard.

But looking across a winter, snows in general will occur across a wider band of temperatures — essentially, less warming is needed to chip away at the temperatures that produce all snow than the narrow band where extreme snows occur.


O’Gorman’s study is one of very few to look at the issue of warming and extreme snowfalls, and, to date, the pattern he identified has yet to be seen in snowfall observations, he said. He suspects this is because there are fewer snow observations than those for rain because snow happens over a much smaller area of Earth’s land surface.

“I don’t expect the signal on snowfall to emerge for another 20 years or so,” O’Gorman said.