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In New England, roofs have been collapsing due to extraordinary snowfall amounts, as freezing weather delayed melting, and snow accumulations increased to the breaking point in some structures. Across the US this winter, we’ve seen a succession of heavy snowfalls blanketing large regions, causing airport and highway closures. In December 2009, North America’s heaviest blizzard in a decade caused power outages and travel chaos along the eastern seaboard. The last two winters have also seen record snowfall amounts in Europe.

How can this onslaught of snowy weather be reconciled with the claims of global warming which climate scientists have been warning us about for decades? When we experience monster snowstorms and record snowfall amounts, the existence of global warming seems counter-intuitive. With all this snow, it seems like winters are getting colder.

The term “global warming” is an unfortunate choice of words to describe the current and predicted changes to global weather patterns. Heavy snowfall events reinforce the perception among some that global warming is not occurring, a perception which prevents taking actions to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Being concerned about global warming doesn’t make apparent sense when you’re knee-deep in snow.

“Climate change” is a more accurate term to describe the condition of our changing weather patterns.

Snowfall amounts are largely driven by the amount of moisture in humid air when Arctic cold fronts collide with warm fronts advancing from southern regions. This effect can be influenced by diverse factors such as El Nino weather patterns. But record warm weather, according to physicist Michio Kaku, can heat the oceans and generate more moisture, which in turn can drive larger storms, producing more snowfall. In this video, Dr. Kaku explains how snowy weather can be the result of an overall warming trend.

Among scientists, there is general consensus that the climate is indeed warming, with 2010 tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record since measurements began in 1880. The controversy is to what degree human activity is driving this warming effect.

With the warming trend increasing, we can expect record snowfalls to be more common as moisture levels rise to intensify winter storms.