By Barry Burbank

BOSTON (CBS) — Despite the snow blitz of 2015, many baby boomers still insist that, overall, we don’t get the harsh bitter cold and deep snowy winters like we did in the good ole days.

A Leominster teen posing with the giant snowman he built. (Photo credit: Mary Roche)

Weather records prove that just isn’t the case and despite the ongoing claims that snows are becoming rare and hurting winter sports, this millennium has been a blessing to snow lovers and winter sports enthusiasts.

NESIS scale (Photo Courtesy: WeatherBell)

Just as the Saffir-Simpson and Fujita Scales were devised to categorize hurricanes and tornadoes, the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS) was created by Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini of the National Weather Service to rank high-impact Northeast storms. This scale has 5 categories including extreme, crippling, major, significant and notable. In addition to meteorological measurements, the index uses population information which provides an indication of a storm’s impacts on society. The NESIS scores are a function of the amount of snow, the area affected by the snowstorm and the number of people living in the path of the storm. The aerial distribution of snowfall and population information are combined in an equation that calculates a NESIS score which varies from around one for smaller storms to over 10 for extreme storms.

NESIS (Photo Courtesy: WeatherBell)

The last decade stands out like a sore thumb! It has had 29 major impact northeast winter storms with NO previous 10-year period with more than 10 storms! In Boston, 7 out of the last 10 years have produced snowfall above the average 43.7 inches.

2008-09: 65.9″
2009-10: 35.7″
2010-11: 81.0″
2011-12: 9.3″
2012-13: 63.4″
2013-14: 58.9″
2014-15: 110.6″ Greatest On Record Back To 1872
2015-16: 36.1″
2016-17: 47.6″
2017-18: 59.9″

NHEMIS snow (Photo Courtesy: WeatherBell)

Additionally, the trend for fall snow across the northern hemisphere has been increasing, defying the forecasts over the last two decades for snows becoming an increasingly rare event. The 10-year running mean of the Boston area snowfall has skyrocketed to the highest level since snow records were kept and that goes back about 145 years! Fluctuations in the temperature regime and annual snowfalls are a function of about 25 global factors including changing oceanic oscillations mainly sea-surface temperature anomaly locations which impact atmospheric conditions creating certain jet stream configurations plus others such as solar activity and irradiance, geomagnetic activity, volcanism, etc.

STT (Photo Courtesy: WeatherBell)

Interestingly, some scientists have stated that increasing snow is consistent with climate change because warmer air holds more moisture, more water vapor and this can result in more storms with heavy precipitation. The trick, of course, is having sufficient cold air to produce that snow. But note that 93% of the years with more than 60″ of snow in Boston were colder than average years. The reality is cooling, not warming, increases snowfall. Note the graph depicting declining January through March temperatures for 20 years at a rate of 1.5 degrees F. per decade in the Northeast!

Northeast Average Temperature (Photo Courtesy: WeatherBell)

So, what gives? What can we expect going forward in the decades ahead? Are we indeed looking at a new paradigm? There is great uncertainty about the scope and prediction of climate change. Will there be a switch in direction? The Earth has experienced major cooling occurrences five times over the past 1000 years. When will the pendulum swing? Arctic temperatures and arctic ice extent varies in a predictable 60-70 year cycle. The greatest warming has been happening in the Arctic region and that can produce a weaker, less stable jetstream that allows frigid air to dive farther south to mix with the warmer oceans to trigger more potential snow events. It’s all cyclical. Ocean cycles are driven by solar cycles. Above and beyond that, important drivers are the Earth’s orbital cycles being comprised of such variables as the changes of the angle at which the Earth tilts on its axis plus the wobble of Earth on its axis. For now, we can be accurate in saying that the shorter range prediction of seasonal trends is more forecastable.

Barry Burbank

Comments (89)
  1. For centuries, cities were covered with the soot from the burning fires, industrial and manufacturing plants and heating systems, filtering the sunlight hitting the ground. I remember flying back into the US from Europe in 1971, and you could see the dirt in the sky that would block the heat as we approached the US shores. We’ve cleaned up over 98% of that dirt, resulting in the loss of this mitigation factor. What could it mean? More fluctuations in the ground temperature.

  2. Erica Reinhardt says:

    We are in the midst of an Ice Age. The current Ice Age began about 2.5 million years ago and previous ones lasted for from 5 to 10 million years.

    Ice Ages are characterized by glacial periods of extreme cold when northern glaciers expand well into what are currently temperate regions. These cold periods are separated by relatively brief and warmer inter-glacial periods. The last glaciation, ended a little over .12,000 years ago. Before this, for example, the area where Boston and NYC are now was buried under about a half mile of ice.

    What causes Ice Ages and their glacial and inter-glacial periods is not entirely understood. The most important factors affecting the earth’s weather and climate are solar radiation levels and the inclination of the earth’s surface to the sun. This latter is responsible for the variations in weather between summer and winter. There are very long term, long lasting changes in the inclination of the earth called Milankovitch Cycles. These seem to be at least partly responsible for Ice Ages.

    Within Ice Ages, glaciations and inter-glacial periods are most likely due to large variations in the output of solar radiation. During the current inter-glacial period temperatures were much warmer about a thousand years ago, a pleasant period, referred to as the Medieval Climactic Optimum. Since then the earth’s average temperature has been cooling wing with some periods cold enough to seriously impact human life, e.g., the Little Ice Age in the 1600s. Many scientists think this Little Ice Age was associated with a period of very low sun spot activity, called the maunder Minimum, somewhat like that we seem to be experiencing now.

    It’s worth noting that the Little Ice Age was a period of unusual cold and that average temperatures have risen since then. Why these temperatures are rising is an open question. Compared with the effects of variations in solar output and still poorly understood, natural terrestrial cycles, human effects on climate are orders of magnitude smaller. All the variations in weather and climate just discussed occurred independently of and well before current small increases in CO2 and other heat trapping gases, which some choose to associate with human activity. .

    We are fortunate to be in an inter-glacial period which began about 12,000 years age. However, this is around the average length of an inter-glacial period. The last thousand years have been colder than earlier times in this inter-glacial period. They have also been characterized by periods of extreme cold. Despite some rise in average temperature which has occurred since the Little Ice Age we seem likely to be entering another period of low solar activity, which presages colder average temperatures. Even more concerning, geological records suggest that we can expect the onset of another glaciation sometime within the next few thousand years. If and when this occurs it will have a far more deleterious impact on human life and civilization than the putative few degrees rise in temperature hypothesized by the computer models of some climatologists.

    All the above is well established science. Any who doubt this can check the facts against any decent text on geology, meteorology, or climate history.

  3. ddswaterloo says:

    I can’t wait to find out why global warming is causing global cooling.

    Lack of sunspots to bring record cold, warns NASA scientist

  4. Mike Arvand says:

    Cooling, warming. Liberals are still melting down either way.

  5. Donny Dingle says:

    Al Gore invented Man Made Global Warming. He made hundreds of millions of dollars and the American people got raped. There is no man made warming but there is sun cycles that can cause cooling periods that are going to cause many millions to die of starvation. It has been looking like one of those periods is just about upon us and we are not prepared thanks to the likes of Al Gore.

  6. Greg Coe says:

    Apostacy!!! Doesn’t he realize that he is putting grant money in jeopardy?

  7. Ric Werme says:

    I live just north of Concord NH. The 14/15 winter brought me 80″ of snow. More than average, but not what the Boston area got, the storm track was far enough south.

    What we did get was cold, and cold that rivaled February 1934, a month that used to stick out in Concord’s weather data because it was so much colder than any other on record.

    That month also brought near record warmth to Portland OR, so all in all, the nation wasn’t exceptionally cold. But we sure were! I wrote it up at

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