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February 19, 2015

Record snowfalls and cold raise questions of climate change


An influx of winter storms has left Boston’s transportation systems crippled and its residents struggling to cope.

Boston has now seen nearly 100 inches of snow this winter, with few thaws between storms. The record snowfall has forced Boston to close its schools eight times and delay the trial of Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Trains have shut down, forcing over 200,000 commuters to find alternative transportation.

The heavy snowfall has hurt local businesses; more than 80 buildings have collapsed or been damaged from the snow.

Boston’s snowfall so far is tied with the city’s second-snowiest winter on record, and is close to exceeding the previous record for the snowiest winter in 1995-96.

The weather in Boston and the cold temperatures throughout the country have implications in a bigger conversation about climate change. Last year American and Korean scientists published a study in the journal Nature Communications establishing a link between higher temperatures at the North Pole making polar vortex more erratic and driving harsher winter storms.

As global temperatures increase, so have the surface temperatures of the world’s oceans. In the northeast, these high temperatures have raised the amount of moisture in the air above the ocean. Major winter storms feed off this moisture and carry it inland as snow, explained Penn State climate researcher Michael Mann in the Washington Post.

Warm up questions
  1. Why do you think there has been record snow in Boston this year and record cold temperatures in many parts of the United States?
  2. What is the difference between climate and weather? How are they related?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How does record snow and cold affect the discussion of climate change and what to do about it?
  2. What are the consequences of shutting down schools and public transportation systems?
  3. How can cities like Boston prepare for more blizzards in the future?
  4. What might climate change mean for your community?
  5. Are governments and businesses preparing for the long term effects of climate change?Why or why not?
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