I’ve lived in western NY for 30 years and have looked out over Lake Erie most of those days. Winters here are somewhat notorious for snow spawned by lake effect. The one that sticks in most people’s minds is the infamous blizzard of ’77. It was truly one for the record books.
But, now we are seeing warmer winters and snow that still falls in large quantities, but melts pretty quickly. There has been a spate of articles lately discussing the declining ice cover on the Great Lakes:
As an eye witness, I can say this winter has seen the least ice cover in my 30 years here. There have been other winters when L. Erie did not completely freeze over and/or did not come close to freezing over. But, this is the first year I have seen no ice, not even in what they call the inner harbor at Buffalo. Another surprise to me has come in the last two winters. I had an unvarying rule for western NY weather. That was that March always sucked. I was never ‘disappointed’ until last year when March was beautiful. Well, guess what, March is beautiful again this year. The month has been overall quite mild and we’re having an entire week and maybe longer with temperatures in the 60s and no snow on the ground. And this follows a winter when I got more outside work done than in any previous winter.
I know, I know, we can’t attribute individual weather events or even seasons to climate change, but patterns matter. Based on the change of patterns I’ve witnessed here and the confirmation of those patterns by people who have lived here far longer than I, winters are warming overall. We are also getting more violent and frequent weather events like the gully washers that Bill McKibben discussed in his last book, eaarth, and that I personally experienced in our own small watershed two years ago. Seven inches of rain fell on us in 1 1/2 hours. My house is right at the top of that watershed and we still had a foot of water in the basement. The town 4 miles downstream was devastated.
I think we have reached a point when, as I read somewhere, the relevant question is not whether a weather event is caused by climate change, but, to what extent climate change influences weather events.