September 30, 2014

Study: Nebraska winters will still be snowy despite climate change

Snowplow3A national report on climate change finds even with global warming, we’ll still have plenty of snow in the winters ahead in Nebraska and across much of the country’s northern half.

Climatologist Harry Hillaker says climate change is very gradual and snow blowers and shovels will remain necessities. Hillaker says the report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology didn’t exactly go out on a limb in predicting continued snowy winters for the Midwest.

“When you think about it, that’s not really much of a surprise, I guess the basic mechanism on how we get snow is not going to be changing in a warmer world,” Hillaker says. “The number of opportunities may be decreasing but the storms could be just as intense but probably not as frequent as what we’ve been seeing in years past.”

The Old Farmers’ Almanac forecasts the winter ahead will be colder than usual, then next summer will be hotter. The publication predicts winter temperatures, precipitation and snowfall will all be below normal, with the coldest period running from early December into the first half of January. Hillaker says it’s an extreme challenge to accurately predict the weather several months in advance.

“Certainly, not very easily and there’s lots of outfits out there like the Farmer’s Almanac and some private forecasters that attempt to do that sort of thing,” Hillaker says. “I don’t know if anyone’s attempted any kind of study of how accurate those prognostications are, but certainly it’s very, very difficult and we’ve got a long ways to go in those longer-range outlooks.”

While scientific advancements are making forecasts more on-target, Hillaker says no one can really predict now, at summer’s end, what the weather will be this winter.

“Certainly, the day-by-day forecasts, out a week or two, have gotten far, far better than they used to be just in the last 20 or 30 years, tremendous improvements,” Hillaker says. “On that longer range, say from 30 days on out, there’s some skill there, but still a lot of guess work.”

The MIT study predicts that some regions will see less snowfall, but the snowfall extremes may actually intensify.