Record snowfall could mean growing trend

By R.P. Hitt

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Hannah Cohen/Collegian

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” has changed to “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop” for some students at the University of Massachusetts.

According to a press release from the Office of News and Media Relations at UMass, January saw record levels of snowfall with a total of 39.9 inches on the town of Amherst, causing several school closings and delays. Storms of sleet and rain mixed have mixed in with the snowfall, making the roads slick.

“It kind of sucks having to walk around in the ice,” said Christopher Krapf, an undeclared freshman who had to dig out his car for hockey practice after the storms.

According to UMass Climatologist Michael Rawlins, the snow storms are part of a trend of larger amounts of precipitation in winter.

“The region has seen record snowfalls,” said Rawlins in an e-mail. “However, January precipitation (combined snow, sleet, and rain) while above average, did not break records. This is a reflection of the high snow-to-water ratios.”

Some have pointed to the higher amounts of precipitation as proof of a highly politicized topic; global warming. Rawlins didn’t confirm these beliefs, but pointed out there could be a correlation between warming climates and higher levels of precipitation. “The high snowfall totals and above average precipitation are not inconsistent with a warming climate, since the moisture-holding capacity of air increases as temperatures increase,” he said.

Rawlins explained that people should expect different types of climate changes for different areas due to a worldwide shift in climate. He did not venture to give a concrete cause for these changes, but explained computer models that show changes due to greenhouse gas emissions are similar to the types of weather patterns we have seen in recent years.

“Researchers examining the historical climate record have found that winter precipitation increased over the past several decades. Climate models project future increases, with larger changes suggested in simulations with the highest greenhouse gas concentrations,” Rawlins said.

Some students think the recent storms may be an effect of global warming.

“I’ve never seen so much snow in my life,” said Christine Fitzgerald, a junior business management and public health major. “Global warming doesn’t necessarily mean warmer weathers,” she said.

“It’s possible [the storms are related to global warming],” said Krapf. “The world goes through different [climate] periods.”

Rawlins pointed out the storms need to be taken on a case-by-case basis; one winter of heavy snowfall cannot prove the existence of a warming climate. He said there is no reason to expect the heavy snowfalls to continue for the rest of the winter.

“There are no indications that we’ll see as many storms or as much snow as we did in January,” said Rawlins.

Amherst hasn’t been the only town to get hit with colossal amounts of snow. According to the UMass Office of News and Media Relations, researchers from atop Blue Hill Observatory in Milton recorded 48.2 inches this season.

According to Rawlins, Amherst has received 49 inches in total this season, Boston also has received 49 inches and Worcester has received a whopping 60 inches.

The Harford-Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. received 57 inches in January alone, and a total of 80 inches of snow so far this season. According to Rawlins, 80 inches of snow is equivalent to 6.7 inches of water, enough to fill 5,825 Olympic swimming pools.

Forty-seven inches was recorded at Pittsfield Municipal Airport breaking a 65 year old record, according to the UMass press release.

The 39.9 inches received by Amherst broke the January record held for 118 years. The record dates back to 1893 when snowfall observations were first recorded in the town. In that year there were only 4,600 residents in Amherst, just 13 percent of its 2007 population, according to Rawlins. Grover Cleveland was U.S. president at the time, and according to Rawlins, Nabisco Foods invented Cream of Wheat.

Some students are anxious to see the snow melt away and are already looking forward to the spring months as they feel the snow and ice is impeding their ability to get from place to place.

“You can’t see around the corner at the end of the streets,” said Nicole Reynolds, a junior communications major referring to the large snow banks. “It’s a hazard.”

“It’s just been a really snowy winter,” said Krapf.

R.P. Hitt can be reached at [email protected]