Extreme winter weather linked to climate change
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - This winter's heavy snowfalls and other extreme storms could well be related to increased moisture in the air due to global climate change, a panel of scientists said on Tuesday.
This extra moisture is likely to bring on extraordinary flooding with the onset of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, as deep snowpack melts and expected heavy rains add to seasonal run-off, the scientists said in a telephone briefing.
As the planet warms up, more water from the oceans is evaporated into the atmosphere, said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. At the same time, because the atmosphere is warmer, it can hold onto more of the moisture that it takes in.
Intense storms are often the result when the atmosphere reaches its saturation point, Sanford said.
This year, a series of heavy storms over the U.S. Midwest to the Northeast have dropped up to 400 percent of average snows in some locations, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground.
The amount of water in that snowpack is among the highest on record, Masters said.
"If you were to take all that water and melt it, it would come out to more than 6 inches over large swaths of the area," Masters said. "If all that water gets unleashed in a hurry, in a sudden warming, and some heavy rains in the area, we could be looking at record flooding along the Upper Mississippi River and the Red River in North Dakota."
That tallies with projections by the U.S. National Weather Service, which last month said a large stretch of the north central United States is at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring. Continued...