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Snow cover has decreased since the 70s, per study

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Posted at 10:06 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 22:06:01-05

A study of snowfall data in the United States from the 1970s through the 2010s indicates that snowfall in many parts of the nation are on the decline, especially in areas that do not see much snow to begin with.

The data was released by Climate Central on Wednesday, and perhaps is an indication of the effects of climate change in the U.S.

The data notably shows that snowfall in most of the U.S. outside of the traditional winter months (December-February) has decreased. Nearly 80% of locations in the US saw less autumn snow, while 66% saw decreases in snow in the spring.

The data also showed that areas in the central U.S. saw decreases throughout the year. For instance, Nashville, which used to see an average of 1 feet of snow a year now averages roughly half that. Other mid-latitude locations like Santa Fe, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Evansville, Indiana, also saw decreases.

Although a large swath of the US saw overall decreases in snowfall, coastal areas in the Northeast saw increased snowfall in the 2010s compared to the 1970s. Oddly, this may be due to warmer temperatures.

"Overall, lake ice cover has decreased in recent years due to warmer temperatures and as lakes remain ice-free for longer stretches, supporting more snow," the study reads. Another reason is "because warmer air 'holds' more moisture—about four percent more per degree (F)—and that additional moisture can fall as snow when temperatures are below freezing."

New York City saw some of the largest gains in average snowfall, from 22.2 inches of snow a year in the 70s to 36.9 inches of snow a year in the 2010s.

One concern about decreases coverage in snow is snow itself plays a crucial role in limiting climate change.

"The reflectivity of fresh snow, known as its albedo, is very high, reflecting more than 80% of incoming sunlight back into the atmosphere (by contrast, darker surfaces such as open oceans reflect only about 6% and trees, plants, and soil reflect 10 to 30%)," Climate Cenral's report says. "This high reflectivity is most important during the springtime, when longer days in the Northern Hemisphere lead to more sunshine and snow-covered areas reflect solar energy back, keeping the planet cooler."

To read the full story, click here.