Snow Not Attributed to Global Warming

Harvard professor cites chance, not climate change, for recent snow

As snow blanketed the campus during this season’s latest snowstorm on Friday, global warming was not deemed the culprit of the latest round of wet boots and dangerous slips outside Lamont library, according to one Harvard meteorologist.

“We can’t point to this sort of winter and say, ‘this winter is bad because of global warming.’ It’s not being fair with the data,” said Brian F. Farrell, a Harvard meteorology professor.

This weekend marked the eighth snowstorm of more than one inch for the winter, according to the National Weather Service’s Boston area records.

But Farrell said winter weather is variable and multiple snowstorms in one season depends on chance.

“A bad winter consists of rolling the dice and hitting the snake-eyes three times—four or five cyclones which produce bad snowstorms like we’ve had this year,” said Farrell, who was named a 2008 fellow by the American Meteorological Society. “A good winter, you might only hit that kind of cyclone once.”

He continued that seasonal changes in temperature from global warming are estimated at about one degree centigrade, a small enough value that individual seasons are “pretty much unbiased.”

For Lerenzo D. Tolbert-Malcom ’11, the charm of December’s snow has long since worn off.

“The first snowstorm was really cool, and after that it got really annoying,” said Dallas native Tolbert-Malcom. “I want warm weather like Texas.”

For students like Tolbert-Malcom, Farrell said that by mid-century, Harvard may be without snow due to global warming.

“In fifty years, you would begin to see major variations,” he said, adding that the accumulation of temperature changes from year to year would disrupt snowfall patterns by preventing the cyclones that produce snowstorms.

In the meantime, snow appreciators can revel in the winter white.

“I still like the snow, I think it’s really pretty,” Soumya Nettimi ’11 said.

But she said she would not be sad to see the end of winter.

“I’m looking forward to spring. I want it to be warm,” she added.

Although Boston has set two daily snowfall records this season, Farrell said winters from the 1960s and 1970s were much worse.

“Historically, if undergraduates had a few decades of experience with New England winters, they would realize that there have been very severe winters in the past,” he said.