If you asked someone living on the East Coast if they are suffering from the effects of global warming, they would probably stare at you blankly from under their parka. No, being buried in feet of snow generally doesn't raise concern for a warming planet. I'm sure there are even a few folks who are praying for global warming to combat the recent snow storms. Many assume that the record setting blizzards along the East Coast would contradict claims of increasing temperature trends. One shocking hypothesis is that... (you may want to sit down for this one) ...the more extreme winter weather within the last decade may be the result of global warming!
Climate Central is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization of scientists and journalist who study and report on the climate of the United States. I recently found one of their videos which provided an interesting and reasonable explanation for the harsh winter weather on the other side of the country.
I appreciate how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report menacingly flies in to tell us that an increase of one degree Celsius enables the atmosphere to hold 7% more water. Menacing, but real, increased water carrying capacity allows winter storms to deposit more snow, consisting of larger snowflakes. Increased temperatures also increase the rate of evaporation in ways we typically wouldn't consider. According to an EarthTalk article addressing climate change within the United State, 2006 was the first year in recorded history that Lake Erie did not freeze. Since the water was exposed to open air, there was more evaporation leading to increased localized snowfall, a phenomenon appropriately named the "lake effect."
To clarify, global warming is leading to increases in evaporation and the amount of moisture that can be held in the atmosphere. As climate change progresses, we can expect to see more precipitation during storms, and an greater number of severe storms. It's not to say that global warming causes severe storms to consist of snow, but that is an entertaining thought for a snowboarder living in Hawaii.
For more information about how global warming is influencing climate change, please take a look at the following links:
Myth Busting: Snow Storms and Climate Change (video): http://vimeo.com/14094702
Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org/what-we-do
National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/02/100213-snowstorms-global-warming-climate-change-snowpocalypse/