Northeast snow storms affected by drastic climate changes

Brandon Hallmark

The Northeast has received much media attention during the last few months after being bombarded by a seemingly endless barrage of snow storms. These heavy snowstorms could become the norm, said William Gallus, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences.

“Some scientists are beginning to think that the fact that the ice caps are melting away in the summer might make this start to happen routinely. I don’t know that this would happen every winter, but it seems logical that this might become the new normal,” Gallus said.

Part of the reason for the cold weather is that the pole warms up. As it warms up, the cold is pushed south into the United States and parts of Europe. Similarly, the North Atlantic Oscillation has been in the negative since December.

The North Atlantic Oscillation is a climate phenomenon that controls the strength and direction of the westerly winds and storm tracks in the north Atlantic. When the oscillation is negative, cold weather and storms occur. When it’s positive, calmer, warmer weather will be the result.

A widely used comparison is imagining the pole as a fridge and the rest of earth as a kitchen. If the fridge door is closed, the cold stays inside and the warm stays outside. But if you open the fridge door and leave it open, the cold air spills out while the interior of the fridge heats up.

But there are doubters and critics claiming the cold temperatures belay the global warming theory.

“It’s kind of ironic because the background cause [of the weather] would be the fact that the globe is warming up,” Gallus said. “A lot of people really don’t seem to understand that because they look and see that it’s cold and snowy and they think, ‘Oh the world can’t be warming up,’ when it’s actually because the earth is warming up.”

But snow and ice aren’t the only problems Northeast states face. This snowstorm will also cause the states to move money from other programs to pay for plowing, sanding and repair.

“All of those economies would not have budgeted for such a severe year, so what’s going to happen is they’re going to be spending much more for maintenance and repair as well as sanding and plowing,” said Dave Swenson, associate scientist of economics. “State governments have to balance their budgets, so if you have to spend more money on one thing, that means you are going to spend less on other things. So for states those are already in stress that’s going to come from elsewhere. One way or the other, if they have to plow more roads, they’re going to be providing fewer services in some other category.”

Swenson said it is difficult to measure the true economic impact of severe weather.

“People are very quick to come up with an estimate of the ‘economic impact’ of something,” Swenson said. “If a disaster causes discernible damage to something, we can measure that, but we can’t do a very good job of measuring what was the decline in business or government productivity or overall lost sales was.”

However, Swenson indicated that businesses would slow down, some people would be sent home, others would be unable to get to work and schools would cancel, leading to at least one parent staying home with children. Each of these scenarios will impact the economy.

Damage costs as a result of storms could also be difficult to calculate. Some things are more obvious, such as damage to buildings or homes as a result of snow accumulation; others, less so, such as slipping and hurting oneself on the ice, or someone having a heart attack after shoveling snow.

Swenson also indicated that despite the storms, people in the Northeast still have access to food.

“Governments place a premium at getting main roadways cleared quickly,” Swenson said. “Disruptions to the normal in and outs of regular deliveries like fruits, vegetables and groceries, are rarely disrupted. In a day or two, you get a normal flow of those commodities into those areas. They’re going to get the food to the people.”

Additionally, Swenson doesn’t expect taxes in the Northeast to increase as a result of this year’s storms.

The Northeast isn’t the only part of the world experiencing weird weather this winter. Parts of Canada have been unseasonably warm, and areas in Europe were slammed by snow storms earlier in the season.

“Really, this winter has been odd in a lot of areas,” Gallus said. “People in this country seem to forget the United States is just one little piece of the planet.”