New York City snow days: Connected to global warming?
More frequent and abundant snow storms speak of long-term temperature patterns.
Saturday, January 29, 2011 - 03:46
WHITE OUT: Snow falls during a New York City blizzard. (Photo: Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr)
The New York City Department of Education is not notorious for declaring snow days. In fact, Jan. 27, 2011 was only the seventh one since 1978. Though the department's fuzzy snow day policy often results in students' dismay, it's rigid declaration of snow days goes well with the frequency of abundant snow falls over the past three decades. (If NYC cancelled school for every blizzard, there would be a huge number of snow days to make up later in the year.)
Though no single extreme weather event can qualify global weather patterns, such events will occur more frequently as global temperatures rise (indicating that the increased number of snow storms is, in fact, connected to global warming). The blizzards that have hit New York City in the past seem to hit more consistently, and in larger amounts, than they did before. It is probable that more frequent snowstorms in the Northeast result from long-term temperature and precipitation patterns. Warmer air carries more moisture, after all.
Since the National Weather Service began keeping a record of the snowfalls in New York City in 1869, it is clear that of the top eight snow storms, a large majority of them have occurred in recent years. This trend at least explains the infrequency of snow days until the last decade. It's debatable — though the pro-snow-day side comes out much stronger — whether there should be more.
Top 11 snow storms in Central Park:
February 11, 2006 — 26.9 inches
December 26, 1947 — 26.4 inches
March 12, 1888 — 21.0 inches
February 25, 2010 — 20.9 inches
January 7, 1996 — 20.2 inches
December 26, 2010 — 20.0 inches
February 16, 2003 — 19.8 inches
January 27, 2011 — 19.0 inches
March 7, 1941 — 18.1 inches
December 26, 1872 — 18.0 inches
February 5, 1978 — 17.7 inches
Past New York City Snow Days:
Feb. 5, 1978 (17.7")
The Great Northeastern Blizzard of 1978 causes the first NYC snow day and lots of overjoyed adolescents.
Jan. 7, 1996 (20.2")
After 18 years, NYC schools proclaim a snow day after a Nor'easter hits New York over a span of two days.
Sept. 16, 1999
Schools are closed not for overwhelming snow fall, but due to torrential rain and high winds because of Hurricane Floyd.
Jan. 28, 2004 (12.0")
No ridiculous amount of snow, but commutes are still difficult.
March 2, 2009 (11.0")
A nice snowfall of just under a foot closes NYC schools.
Feb. 10, 2010 (16.0")
NYC school closures are announced the day before the snowfall in anticipation of the storm falling at its worst during school dismissals. Announcements over the loudspeaker had never resulted in as much giddy cheering as on this day.
Feb. 26, 2010 (20.9")
There are two snow days in one month for the first time in NYC history, and February 2010 is proclaimed the "snowiest" month in NYC history, with approximately 36.9" accumulated in Central Park.
Jan. 12, 2011 — The snow day that could have been (17.0")
This day is not proclaimed a snow day, even though it snows more than a few snow days in the past. Thousands of students and teachers around the city are unable to travel to schools, and the city's students' attendance rate is a dismal 46 percent. Only one-third of NYC high school students attend school.
Jan. 27, 2011 (19.0")
Inconveniently declared during NYC high schools' finals and New York State Regents week, this is the seventh NYC snow day since 1978. It resulted in the city's total snow accumulation of 36 inches.
Whether more frequent snow storms are related to global warming is perhaps still debatable. But what is very clear (to me, anyway) is that children should be able to enjoy the inevitably abundant snow falls.
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