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Climate expert links recent California snowfall to warming planet

Climate scientist links recent California snowstorms to warming planet
Climate scientist links recent California snowstorms to warming planet 02:48

SAN FRANCISCO -- In just four days at the beginning of March, an epic blizzard dropped more than 100 inches of snow in parts of California.

Any concern over California's snowpack may have, for the moment, evaporated. The Golden State's reservoirs and drinking water supplies are in good shape.

Experts told CBS News Bay Area that we have not dug ourselves out of the much bigger problem: the impacts of our slowly warming planet. In fact, the blockbuster blizzard that dropped six to 10 feet of snow likely has links to climate change.

"Climate change is really affecting the underlying possibility -- set of possibilities -- for what a weather system is capable of doing," said Dr. Andrew Jones.

Jones is a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. His research involves hydroclimate extremes and snow dynamics. This blizzard, in particular, caught his attention.

"This was a very interesting storm to me," he said.

One would think that a warming planet should mean less snow and climate scientists predict that, in California, we'll see diminishing snowfall. But this recent blizzard was a lollapalooza. That too is linked to warming temperatures.

"It really does highlight this conundrum that we see climate change kind of causing two counteracting forces at the same time," Jones explained.

 With this blizzard, cold arctic air out of the Bering Strait made a beeline at California. On the way, it traveled over the Pacific Ocean which is warming in part because of climate change.

Higher temperatures -- in the ocean and the air -- allow the atmosphere to hold more water.

"So, this cold mass of air that moved down from the Bering Strait has picked up heat and picked up moisture as it was moving across the Pacific," Jones said.

That created a warmer, wetter storm that was still below freezing. Jones is now keeping his eye on the snowpack -- with good reason.

February was the ninth month straight to be the warmest on record globally.

"Because overall conditions are warmer, that snow might melt faster than usual," Jones warned.

Overall, Jones said he remains hopeful for new strategies that aim to capture excess runoff to recharge California's aquifers. He also said it's not too late to slow down climate change. 

"We do have to be aware of the changes that are happening and start to prepare for them," Jones said.


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Ocean Warming

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