February 10, 2010 Edition

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Heavy snowfalls could be
effect of 'global warming'

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

When scientists first began using the term "global warming" to describe the effects of green house gases on the environment many interpreted this as strictly relating to how warm the air was going to be. One of the most frequently asked questions is "How can there be global warming when it's this cold."

Scientists now often refer to the effects of global warming with the more precise term "climate change," which more aptly describes how greenhouse gases are affecting the planet. The melting of the polar ice caps are good indications for the warming of our planet. Even though most of the surface air has warmed by only a degree over the past century, surface air over the polar caps has warmed by almost four degrees.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the increase in temperature causes a rise in ocean levels as polar ice melts. The rising ocean levels increase the moisture in the air. More water vapor in the air has led to an increase in precipitation in the northern hemisphere, which has resulted in record rain and snow events.

Scientists predicted that warmer air holding larger amounts of water vapor would lead to more severe weather. The last decade has been marked by record setting rainfall and snow events. Last year's January ice storm was the result of waves of warm moisture bearing air moving up from the Gulf of Mexico encountering surface air chilled by an Arctic front. This led to one of the worst ice storms on record for Northeast Arkansas.

NOAA reports that the southern United States has had an 11.6 percent increase in precipitation since 1900. This is a significant increase according to the agency. The United States Environmental Protection Agency said on its website that NOAA's report is consistent with the simulations that predict an increase in precipitation due to human-induced warming (the burning of fossil fuels and other practices which result in greenhouse gas emissions).

Dr. Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and co-founder of the website Weather Underground, said there are only two things needed for a record-setting snowstorm: a record amount of moisture in the air (or a very slow moving storm) and temperatures cold enough to produce snow. It doesn't have to be record-setting cold temperatures to produce record-setting snow but the moisture has to be present.

This year's winter storms continue to support the climate change stance of scientists and environmentalists. Record nationwide snowfall has been reported over the last two weeks with locally heavy amounts exceeding 10 inches in Lawrence County and a record one-day snowfall set in Craighead County.

With yet another possibility of frozen precipitation later in the week the predictions by meteorologic experts of an increasing number of snowstorm events caused by large amounts of moisture in the atmosphere may be proved to be dead on.

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