A Changing Climate, or Just Another Natural Phenomenon?

By Jennifer Johnson

Worcester, MA: This winter, New Englanders were both disappointed and relieved by the mild start of the snow season; after seeing a mild snow storm back in November and then just a sprinkling during the holidays. Little did the community know that the last week of January would bring a surprise.

Meteorologists hyped about a 30-plus inch snowstorm that would barrage the upper east coast, mainly New England. The storm, known as Juno, or the “Snowpocalypse” due to its impending greatness also rekindled the age-old fight–what is climate change?

Some believe Juno is just another natural phenomenon, while others see it as our Earth evolving. Dr. Mark Johnson, professor of Meteorology at Worcester State University, is among those who believe this storm to be a sign of our Earth changing, and to expect many more of storms this caliber in the future.

The storm wasn’t supposed to amount to all that much, especially in New England, according to Dr. Mark Johnson. New York had declared a state of emergency, but was surprised with barely anything.

However, the storm tracked 100 miles east of where it should have been, meaning the jet stream which is the U.S.’s main wind current meandered further South than expected.

Match that with an incredibly low pressure gradient, and we find ourselves in a “…true blizzard or a storm with a consistent wind speed of over 35 mph,” according to meteorologists classification. This made the storm gather strength from the Gulf Stream which has been unseasonably warm. That extra moisture and heat amplified the storm, resulting in the great amount of snow we received.

Had the storm been on its regular track we would have seen a reverse situation where New York was hit with about 30 inches while Massachusetts gained maybe 9-10. This explains why this storm was as great as it was. Johnson, unlike some others in the field, believes this storm is a perfect example of climate change.

When the words “climate change” are mentioned, many think warmer climate, but what it truly means is that the content of moisture in the air is growing–especially during typically dry months like January. This growing moisture content provides “perfect” weather for super storms such as Juno.

“We most certainly can expect more ‘super storms’ like these in the future, especially in January with the extra moisture and super cold conditions,” Dr. Johnson said. “These storms most argue, are not due to climate change, but I see that the warmer our climate gets the bigger and more ferocious storms we encounter and can expect to encounter.”

The northeast has always been an area prone to winter storms. Winters, even mild ones, pose a threat to those who live in the area year after year. Storms like Juno aren’t necessarily one in a million, but are not as common as the typical few inches we are used to. If climate change is causing storms like these to occur more and more frequently, preparing and dealing with the results will become more and more difficult for those affected.

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