Gregg Smith shovels out after a heavy snowfall in the Boston suburb of Marlborough, Mass., Monday, Dec. 27, 2010. Big snowstorms may not necessarily decrease due to global warming. / Bill Sikes, AP
Big snowstorms won't be a distant memory, even with global warming, says a new study out Wednesday.
The study finds that extreme snow events will still occur, even in a future with significant man-made climate change.
"In some regions, it is possible for average snowfall to decrease, but the snowfall extremes actually intensify," said study lead author Paul O'Gorman, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The study was done with computer model simulations, which found that while yearly average snowfall declines due to climate change in most regions, it actually increases in regions with very low surface temperatures.
For instance, even though places like Boston may see less snowy winters overall, some years will still see blizzards that drop a foot or more of snow.
The findings suggest that changes in extreme snowfall are not a good indicator of climate change.
"You might expect with a warmer climate there should be major changes in snowfall in general," O'Gorman says. "But that seems to be true to a greater extent for average snowfall than for the intensities of the heaviest snowfall events."
Overall, due to climate change, the USA is already experiencing more intense rain and snowstorms, the National Climate Assessment reported in May, with the biggest increases in the Northeast and Midwest.
In fact, the amount of rain or snow falling in the biggest storms has risen nearly 20%, averaged nationally - almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported earlier this year.
"We often hear people claim that a big snowstorm is evidence that the climate is not warming, but these results make it clear that such storms do not provide much evidence about a changing climate," says Anthony Broccoli, professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University.
Broccoli, who was not part of the study, said "those of us who live in the Northeast will likely continue to see occasional heavy snowstorms, especially in midwinter when temperatures are at their lowest."
The study was published Wednesday in the British journal Nature.
Read the original story: Snow foolin': Blizzards still likely despite global warming