If global warming is occurring, why was the winter of 2007-2008 so cold and snowy?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:38 PM GMT on March 14, 2008

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The planet was much snowier and warmer than usual during the winter of 2007-2008, according to statistics released today by the National Climatic Data Center. Snow cover extent over the Northern Hemisphere during the period December 2007 - February 2008 was the fourth greatest on record, and was the greatest on record for January. Satellite-derived snow cover records extend back to 1967. Some regions of the Middle East, such as Baghdad, Iraq saw their first snow in living memory, and seasonal snowfall records were broken in Wisconsin and a few places in the Northeastern U.S. Surprisingly, the winter also ranked much above average in temperature--it was the 16th warmest December through February period in the 128-year global record. This puts the winter of 2007-2008 in the warmest 13% of all winters. Temperatures this winter were a bit cooler than recent winters because of an ongoing strong La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which has dramatically cooled the ocean surface waters. By one measure (the surface pressure difference between Darwin and Tahiti), February 2008 was the strongest February La Niña event on record. The last time we had a winter this cool was during 2000-2001, which also happened to be the last time we had a major winter La Niña event.


Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for the winter of 2007-2008. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

A normal winter for the U.S.
December 2007 through February 2008 was about average in the contiguous U.S.--the 54th coolest winter on record in the 113 year period of record. The average temperature was 33.2°F (0.6°C), which was 0.2°F (0.1°C) above the 20th Century mean. It was the 18th wettest December-February in the 1895-2008 record. New York experienced its wettest winter on record, and the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Vermont experienced their second-wettest winter on record. Only the South received below normal levels of precipitation, mostly due to a dry winter in Texas.

All time winter snowfall records have already been set in some portions of the Northeast U.S. and Wisconsin. As of March 12, Madison, WI had accumulated 92 inches of snow, smashing the previous seasonal snowfall record of 76.1 inches (193.3 cm) of snow in the winter of 1978-1979. Two locations in the Northeast have set new winter snowfall records, and more records will fall if an average amount of snow falls in March. By the end of February, new snowfall records for the season-to-date were also set in both Telluride and Aspen, Colorado.

An exceptionally warm winter in Northern Europe and Asia, cold in Central Asia
Northern Asia and northern Europe experienced an exceptionally warm winter, with Sweden and Finland recording their warmest winters ever, and Norway, its second warmest. Conversely, Tajikistan recorded its coldest winter in 30 years, and heavy snows in Kazakhstan caused severe flooding when they melted. Snow storms and cold weather in China this winter killed 129 people and did over $21 billion in damage.

Why did we see a cool winter, if global warming is occurring?
It is important to understand the difference between weather and climate. Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get. What we experience in one particular season or year is "weather". Weather has a large variation from year to year, with cool seasons and years mixed in with warms ones. "Climate" is the weather measured on scales of tens of years or longer. One cool winter or year is not an indication that the climate is cooling back to normal. The climate is warming, and unless we see a series of several years of cool conditions, this year's cool winter merely represents a normal fluctuation of the weather. Relatively cool weather is to be expected globally during a strong La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and relatively warm weather is expected during an El Niño event. We shouldn't expect to see record warmth for the globe unless an El Niño event is occurring.

Why did we see record snows this winter, if global warming is occurring?
Beware of global warming skeptics trumpeting record snowfalls this winter as an excuse to doubt that global warming is occurring. One should primarily look at global temperatures on a scale of decades to judge the validity of global warming. Dr. Ricky Rood, who writes our Climate Change blog, put it this way in his current blog, Creeping Onset of Spring and in an earlier blog, Water, water, water:

This year has been very snowy in the northern hemisphere. That it is snowy does not suggest that it is colder. If it gets warmer, it does not mean that we no longer see freezing temperatures in places like Michigan. If it gets warmer there is more water in the atmosphere, and when there is precipitation there will be more precipitation, and if it is below freezing, then that precipitation will be ice and snow. The high mountains near the coast, like the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada would expect more snow. This is also true for the high altitudes parts of Greenland and Antarctica. From a climate point of view it is more important to look at snow cover in the late winter and early spring. Is the snow melting earlier?


Figure 2. Average February arctic sea ice coverage as observed by satellites between 1979 and 2008. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Arctic sea ice recovers a bit
It will be interesting to see if this year's heavy Northern Hemisphere snow cover melts earlier than usual, as this will have a big impact on the annual Arctic sea ice melt. We're starting off with more ice surface area in the Arctic than in the past four years--February 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was greater than each of the previous four years, thanks to cooler than usual temperatures over much of the Canadian Arctic. However, this was still the fifth lowest ice extent on record for the month of February, and 8% below its extent in 1979 when satellite measurements began, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. February was the third straight month that a new monthly minimum Arctic sea ice record was not set, following a string of five months in a row where monthly records were set. The extra sea ice extent will help to reduce the amount of melting this summer, but this effect will probably be overshadowed by the fact that natural wind patterns have forced a large amount of thick, multi-year ice out of the Arctic this winter. This has left much of the sea ice very thin, making it very vulnerable to melting. For the first time on record, the edge of thin first-year ice has pushed beyond the North Pole. IF we get another relatively warm and sunny summer in the Arctic in 2008, we will likely see Arctic sea ice loss surpassing last year's astounding collapse.

Annual WeatherDance contest ready for registration!
Armchair forecasters, now's your chance to shine! WeatherDance, based on teams in the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments, allows players to predict which team's city will be hotter or colder on game day in each round of the Big Dance. Beginning March 17, players can make their forecasts at the Weather Dance Web site at: www.weatherdance.org. The site will be updated with cities promptly after NCAA seeding announcements. Team selection occurs March 16 for men and March 17 for women. First round Weather Dance selections must be entered by 11:59 p.m. EST March 19. Players can register now and receive periodic reminders as the game progresses.

"Officially, Weather Dance began as a class project to get students involved in weather forecasting, but we kept it around because it got popular. People think they can do better forecasting than the meteorologists. Well, here's their shot!" said Perry Samson, WeatherDance creator, co-founder of the The Weather Underground, Inc., and Professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan.

This is the third year for the game. Last year more than 2,000 people played. Most play merely for the thrill, but many science teachers involve their classes as part of meteorology units. The winning teacher will receive an invitation and $500 to join the Texas Tech/University of Michigan Storm Chasing team this spring for a day of tornado chasing. Other winners will receive a Weather Underground umbrella or a copy of the book "Extreme Weather," by Christopher C. Burt.

Jeff Masters

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123. Michfan
4:35 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Levi this season's Deadliest Catch is going to be interesting on Discovery with the wacky weather that Alaska has had this year.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1617
122. atmoaggie
4:26 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
why does the GISS, NCDC, HadCRU temperature data match up so well?

It honestly doesn't. Look at Baha, look at Africa, look North and West of Wisconsin.

It does match decently in places where there are large numbers of obs in the historical record, better than I might have first imagined at least in sign (positive and negative), sometimes not so well in magnitude.

Anyway, this isn't good enough for a great big uproar over "measured" 1 or 2 degree changes. The sparseness and questionable validity of so many historical records makes this also interesting anomaly plot more limited for AGW conclusions than the NCDC one.

Only time will gain us a complete enough record to use for real decisions without all of the caveats.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
120. afcjags03
4:33 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
113. HouseofGryffindor 4:28 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
The only thing I know is everybody should just vote for Obama. Look at his plans for Global Warming - they are pretty good.


I seriously hope that this isn't the only issue that decides how your vote is spent.

Vote Nader, he'll legalize pot and everyone will be too dang lazy to drive. I kid, I kid....

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119. Michfan
4:33 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Check his references at the bottom of the page:

Link
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1617
118. latitude25
4:31 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Man made additions - 11,880

Which also includes deforestation.

We are plowing under the rain forests at the fastest rate in history
to grow bio-fuels.

That should make CO2 levels shoot off the chart.
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117. Levi32
8:34 AM AKDT on March 14, 2008
Massive extratropical cyclone has reached peak intensity south of the Aleutian Islands at about 975mb, and the associated weather front is nearly onshore SW Alaska, prompting blizzard watches for high winds and several inches of snow. The low will begin to gradually fill as it slides east over the next couple days.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Click for full-size image.
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116. Michfan
4:27 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
112. JFLORIDA 4:25 PM GMT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
Water vapor is a constant in the equation. It really probably only matters as a mechanism. I mean right?

Even if it is responsible for 99.9999999% its just there.

Just using that is absurd and meaningless. What EXACTLY is the point?


The fact that water vapor holds the majority of the heat in our Earth's atmosphere, thereby being the most influential greenhouse gas due to its dominance. When it is taken fully into context along with CO2, etc.. then our impact to GW is in some degree minimized in the big picture. If anyone has any data to support to the contrary id love to see it. Maybe water vapor behaves differently in such a way that there is a reason the DOE does not include it in their reports.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1617
115. sullivanweather
12:25 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
Re 95:
Re 108:

Also, for the second time in two days i've noticed, everyone has stayed away from aweathergirl's post as referenced in post#95 of this blog.


From your link...

The Important Greenhouse Gases (except water vapor)

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) parts per billion
pre-industrial - 288,000
Natrual additions - 68,520??
Man made additions - 11,880
Total now - 368,400

How did one arrive at the second figure therein? That is completely false...
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111. Patrap
11:21 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
Because thats not a report anyone can see is published anywhere, Its a webpage at best.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125635
110. afcjags03
4:19 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
105. JFLORIDA 4:13 PM GMT on March 14, 2008

You talk about the article speaking on contrarian musings, but can't the same be spoken for your reference in some aspects? What makes your reference that much more factual than the others? I am just curious of course.

I mean really, as with all this garbage. Its a matter of who's research you want to believe in. It has nothing to do with being republican or democrat.
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109. sullivanweather
12:16 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
If you notice the GISS uses error bars in their calculations in their graphs. The error bar from the time period listed is ~.15°C (1921-1950).

So the annual (using seasons) temperature anomaly for 2007 is .51°C +/- .15°C from the 1921-1950 base period.

Also, is there was such a lack of data before 1950 or whatever year someone decides is the cut-off date to unreliable data to reliable data, then why does the GISS, NCDC, HadCRU temperature data match up so well?
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108. afcjags03
4:10 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
http://www.glennbeck.com/images/news/2008/02/03-03-08-temps.jpg

Oh, you mean how most of our temperatures here in the states are recorded, like that?

Also, for the second time in two days i've noticed, everyone has stayed away from aweathergirl's post as referenced in post#95 of this blog.

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107. atmoaggie
4:04 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Since some think using 1961-1990 is disingenuous,

Not the point. They are correctly using 1961-1990 because the data is somewhat complete and trustworthy. The point was about the time period limitations in our only thorough temperature records, thus limiting the conclusions to be drawn from it.

Oceanic records before satellite IR measurements aren't considered to be complete and without gross errors by anyone without an agenda. Sure they are somewhat useful, but to use them in a comparison with the current IR measurements is comparing apples to oranges.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
106. mobal
11:14 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
Just an honest observation, when Dr. M throws a GW related blog up, people lace up their gloves and get their shorts in knots. The good doctor has efficiently embraced this debatable global issue or lack there of time and time again. I honestly think he sits back with a bag of popcorn and giggles to himself while we bicker and slander eachother over this topic. If there is ever a way to shake up the ant farm, its with Global Warming right here in this blog.

LMAO!!
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103. TampaSpin
4:05 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Gotta go. Its been intertaining...Everyone stay civil.......lol
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102. latitude25
4:00 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
I do have a question about the oil/energy companies.

Why are you guys so down on the oil companies
when someone like George Soros, donates tons of money to environmenal groups
for them to push global warming

and at the same time George Soros is trying to buy as much of South America as he can
to invest in bio-fuels and ethanol

resulting in the fastest destruction of the rain forest that has ever been recorded.
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101. TampaSpin
4:03 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
98. AWeatherLover 3:55 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
JFlorida, TampaSpin, I noticed it didn't look severe. If anything we'll get some much needed rain in the area. Do you guys have a link that shows lightning strikes over the radar? Just curious if there is any lightning going on in this thing.

no Lighnting poping.
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100. TampaSpin
3:58 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
97. sullivanweather 3:54 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Since some think using 1961-1990 is disingenuous, let's use 1921-1950. The peak 30 warm period from the early 20th century.


To what decimal does that go out to.....hum look close. Was that used if 1921.
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99. Michfan
4:00 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
65. Michfan 3:13 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
62. HouseofGryffindor 3:11 PM GMT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
^ See Michael Moore's Farenheit 911... very good documentary.

No more Kool Aid for you. Lets not go down this road please because all this blog is about to turn into is a debate over shitty documentaries that people believe as gospel. Lets please keep it to the science of everything and not speculation.



There is no speculation... The Saudi's are in fact close friends with the Bush family.


Then point out the facts like that...don't reference the entire movie which has alot of points that can be debated to no end.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1617
98. AWeatherLover
3:53 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
JFlorida, TampaSpin, I noticed it didn't look severe. If anything we'll get some much needed rain in the area. Do you guys have a link that shows lightning strikes over the radar? Just curious if there is any lightning going on in this thing.
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97. sullivanweather
11:50 AM EDT on March 14, 2008
Since some think using 1961-1990 is disingenuous, let's use 1921-1950. The peak 30 warm period from the early 20th century.

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96. Patrap
10:53 AM CDT on March 14, 2008


...touche?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125635
95. AWeatherLover
3:46 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Link
Above link is about the anthropogenic output which affects global warming. Anyone have any data to dispute this? Seems to say that we have very little effect on global warming and it would be almost pointless to reduce our anthropogenic output.
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94. MisterPerfect
3:43 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Just an honest observation, when Dr. M throws a GW related blog up, people lace up their gloves and get their shorts in knots. The good doctor has efficiently embraced this debatable global issue or lack there of time and time again. I honestly think he sits back with a bag of popcorn and giggles to himself while we bicker and slander eachother over this topic. If there is ever a way to shake up the ant farm, its with Global Warming right here in this blog.

En guard!




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92. afcjags03
3:18 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2008/02/11/a-2000-year-global-temperature-record/#more-30 7

what do we make of this? I would like our resident folks with the PHDs to discredit Dr. Lohele and his findngs, im sure you can, so let's hear it. I'll be sure to post more links with pretty graphs throughout this specific blog, I mean, I need to get in the know. Apparently for there are some people, like Dr Loehle, with real credentials who must apparently not know what the heck they're talking about.

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91. Patrap
10:48 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
Its a good soaking rain coming in to Fla and GA...Good news for the agriculture.
Wet Weather making news is a good thing sometimes. Link

No severe anywhere noted. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125635
89. BigTuna
9:27 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
"Remember, it's still a theory."

So is gravity.
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87. TampaSpin
3:46 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
85. AWeatherLover 3:46 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Hey, anyone watching the blob of weather headed for west central FL right now?


Got it up on radar. Looks like alot of rain nothing seems severe.
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86. hydrus
3:36 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
CCHS-Any predictions on 2008 Hurricane season?
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85. AWeatherLover
3:45 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Hey, anyone watching the blob of weather headed for west central FL right now?
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84. atmoaggie
3:43 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
the best one then wins.

Wins what, exactly? This is not a joke. What does the truth dictate is the bounty?
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
83. Patrap
10:41 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
If global warming is occurring, why was the winter of 2007-2008 so cold and snowy?

Hey cchs, the severe weather Blogs are 3 doors
down and to the right.

Everyone is free to banter the topic..in depth or Politically.Since the two are interwoven, from Budgets to Appts.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125635
81. TampaSpin
3:41 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
This is the real stuff that is hurting..
DJIA* 11,962.48 -183.26 -1.51%
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80. weatherspirit
3:39 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Beware of Global Warming Advocates trying to silence Skeptics is good advice too...
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79. atmoaggie
3:36 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
You guys are acting like two children fighting over a lollipop right now

Dude, everyone has been fairly civil and discussing items related to Dr. Master's blog, until now. Calm thyself.

There is nothing wrong with actively debating opposing viewpoints...that is how we might learn something (one way or the other, no matter).
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
78. tornadofan
3:36 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
"Beware of global warming skeptics"

Beware of skeptics of global warming skeptics.
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77. TampaSpin
3:34 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
The sad part is that both sides of the GW issue try to attempt to use their position to envoke political issues pro and con. That is what the true argument that people fight for, their Political view...
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76. cspencef
3:33 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Evidently some minds are easily boggled..."Beware of global warming skeptics" is simply good advice...
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75. atmoaggie
3:35 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
linden: About digit thing, I do not think it would be that simple, but some merit in the thinking. More to be considered is that the older satellite instruments were much coaser, not only in data resolution, but also in spatial resolution. Even just 10 years ago, we are relying on 14 km resolution IR measurements and now we collect 250 meter resolution data. How does the resolution difference effect any data comparison? I dunno...haven't thought that out yet...it may depend on how the high-res stuff is resampled down to 14km for comparison.

As for the digits, I think the instrument biases and data processing algorithms have more of an effect. For example optical MODIS data has had a number of revisions and bug-fixes lately (within the last couple years) to calibrate the raw instrument data better and this is for Terra, collecting data since 2000.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
74. cchsweatherman
11:29 AM EDT on March 14, 2008
Will people stop bickering back and forth about global warming and focus on the current weather situation where we could have a possible severe weather outbreak occurring in Texas and the Southeast by early-to-mid week? You guys are acting like two children fighting over a lollipop right now. It's sickening how mature adults will argue like that. There is one other thing I'd like to say. There is evidence that supports the skeptics point of view as well as the advocates point of view. Noone can say who is right or wrong in this matter, so stop arguing that you are the one that is correct. You can present information that supports your ideas, but don't constantly argue against other's ideas.
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.