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Is Climate Change Behind The Northeast's Extreme Winter Storms?

A nor'easter is set to pummel the Northeast this week before the area has had a chance to clean up the record amounts of snow that came down only a few days ago.

With winter storms in general getting worse and worse, environmentalists have turned to climate change as a reason why while others are less inclined to believe so.

So, can this all really be attributed to climate change?

At first, this rash of intense winter storms does not seem linked to the idea of climate change and the planet getting warmer. Even NASA and NOAA stated that 2014 was the warmest year on record along with the government-sponsored U.S. Global Change Research Program.

In fact, a warming planet with a frigid, freezing season seems contradictory.

But however implausible that may seem, simple physics and meteorology help shed some light on how this system works to create the storms many have and will experience this winter.

To begin, climate change points to increasing temperatures on this planet, and a specific temperature increase that influences these storms is the rising temperature of the Earth's oceans.

According to NOAA, the sea surface temperatures have been higher during the past three decades than at any other time since observations began in 1880, with temperatures rising at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit every decade.

These warmer oceanic temperatures produce more moisture in the air.

The more moisture in the air, the more likely a storm or weather event is to produce precipitation, such as rain or, if it is cold enough, snow.

This same meteorological system is behind the oncoming nor'easter. The nor'easter, a clashing of Arctic air and air from the Gulf, will pick up as much moisture as it can from this season's unusually warmer water temperatures.

Climate change deniers are under the impression that if the climate is warming, winter storms and winter, in general, should be getting better because of these so-called rising temperatures.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, climate change means winters are getting shorter, not less cold.

Despite the climate growing warmer, the planet still rotates around the sun and this continent, in particular, is currently tilted away from the sun.

In other words, winter will happen regardless based on the simple fact that the sun is the center of our solar system.

Climate change can't change that fact.

This is an important point as climate change is not the cause of extreme weather; just like winter, weather will happen regardless of climate change.

Instead, climate change can only affect the weather, possibly influencing its strength and causing intense winter conditions.

Time will only tell how bad things could actually get.


Shawn Thomas writes Lifestyle and Entertainment content for CBS Local. Follow him on Twitter.

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