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    The Future Is More Hercules, Less Snow

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: NASA

    Hercules came soft and fast; I slept through most of it. But the winds must eventually have howled because by morning there was a thick, fresh coat of browning snow outside my apartment. Hercules snowed on 100 million people acrosss the country, and dumped half to a whole foot of snow on New York City. A perverse subsection of the American population cheered it on, and some of them said it proved that global warming isn't real.

    This blizzard's personal brand was Hercules because it was so big and maybe because someone at the Weather Channel has fond memories of Kevin Sorbo. Still, befitting a son of Zeus, this blizzard—or near-blizzard, technically—is in many ways pretty representative of the future of snowfall. There will be more, not fewer, Herculean blizzards as the planet warms. There will be less snow in general.

    The Associated Press calls it the "climate contradiction," even though it's not all that contradictory. The gist is that all the carbon stuffed skies into our skies is raising temperatures, and decreasing annual snowfall and shortening snow seasons. The catch is, as we saw with Hercules, as the atmosphere warms, it can hold and release more moisture.

    As the climate journalist Chris Mooney points out, "Global warming is actually expected to increase 'heavy precipitation in winter storms,' and for the northern hemisphere, there is evidence that these storms are already more frequent and intense, according to the draft US National Climate Assessment."

    So, with the combination of increased percipitation and warmer temperaturess, it's more likely we'll suffer through more Nor'easters and sudden blasts of driveway shoveling and boot-deep legendary journeys to work.

    "Strong snowstorms thrive on the ragged edge of temperature—warm enough for the air to hold lots of moisture, meaning lots of precipitation, but just cold enough for it to fall as snow," Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told the AP. "Increasingly, it seems that we're on that ragged edge."

    More climate change, more ragged edge, more blizzards. More public school-closing Herculeses.

    That's explains why we've seen twice as many extreme snowstorms in the last 50 years than in the 50 before that, and why we've simultaneously seen that "spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the past 45 years." 

    And that earlier this year, the Journal of Climate published the results of climate models that "predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years." And that, according to the American Meteorological Society, models forecast "an almost universal reduction in snowfall as a percent of total precipitation."

    Snow is kind of like a manic old dying man then, increasingly frequent bursts of energy punctuating his decline. Eventually, the globe may warm up enough to halt the blizzards altogether, but until then, the future is less and less snow, more Sorbo.