Hey, I can see my snow-covered house from here!

By Phil Plait | February 6, 2012 1:51 pm

In case you were wondering what the snow was like here in Colorado the other day…

[Click to ensnowflakenate.]

That’s an image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on February 5, 2012. I live in Boulder, to the northwest of Denver (which is labeled), right on the edge of the Rockies. We got well over 30 cm here locally, and it was deeper in other places. Typical of the area, though, the Sun was out the next day, and now our yard looks like a fairyland of sparkles.

It’s unusual to get a heavy snowfall like this in February (we do get big ones, but later in the year) and from what I’ve heard this was a record for a February. And not to overextend the post to climate change, but a) weather is not climate… unless you add time, and 2) contrary to any soundbite you might hear, snowstorms will actually become more common as the Earth warms. Warmer weather means more evaporation, so more moisture in the air. It’s still cold higher up in the atmosphere, and it’s still cold in the winter over land, so a warmer planet overall means more snow in some places. I’m not attributing this event to global warming, to be clear. But it’s the kind of thing we can expect in the coming years.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

Related posts:

Snowpocalypse 2011 from space!
Lovely, frigid ripples
Icy swirls around a patient volcano

MORE ABOUT: Aqua, Boulder, snow

Comments (30)

Links to this Post

  1. Snowstorm! From! SPAAAAAAAAAACE! | ***Dave Does the Blog | February 6, 2012
  1. Thopter

    See that bit in Colorado by the Kansas state line where the white becomes brown? That’s where I was, disappointed in the lackluster snowfall. We maybe got an inch. Didn’t even need to pull out the snow shovels. Stupid snowstorm.

  2. Cindy

    Send the snow our way to NJ! The most snow we got was in October!!! We had a white Halloween but a green Christmas, New Year’s, and Groundhog Day.

    Yeah, I know, the jet stream has been keeping the cold air locked up in the Arctic which is why we’re having such a mild winter. I just want one good dip in the jet stream to coincide with some moisture so I can have one good snowstorm to play in. Except not on April 1st.

  3. llewelly

    but Phil, how can Global Warming be true if it snows in mid latitude mountainous regions in Winter?

  4. Francis

    Weather is not climate unless its hot weather. That is what you really wanted to say. Pathetic.

  5. John



    Obviously, this proves that global warming is a fraud!!!

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat some paint chips.

  6. I’ve always held to physics that if you put more energy in, your get a more energetic result. Heat last I checked is energy.


  7. Ted Player

    I have a genuine question about your point (a). I’m not experiencing denial regarding climate change, but I have often been annoyed at reports by the popular press that some specific warm event is evidence of global warming. I completely agree with your point that this snow over Denver is not counter-evidence to global warming, but doesn’t that *also* mean that some other specific warm-weather event is not supportive-evidence of global warming? It seems to me that the popular press hand-wringing over specific warm-weather events is actually harmful to the goal of many scientists (i.e., to gain popular acceptance of the idea of global climate change) because that evidence is *so easily* countered by examples of specific cold-weather events. One person holds up a “heat wave” as supportive evidence, and the other person holds up last year’s “snowpocalypse” as counter-evidence. The result is a popular perception that both sides have valid arguments. But both sides were talking about short-term weather changes, not long-term climate changes, so they were *both* wrong!

    Some activists want television weathercasters to report global climate change as the cause of specific warm-weather events. For example, in a recent Huffington Post story (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/climate-change-weathercasters_n_1241779.html), Daniel Souweine, co-founder of the nonprofit Citizen Engagement Lab, was critical of weathercasters who fail to report the causal link. Souweine was quoted as saying, “Reporting on a record heat wave and not talking about climate change is like talking about a string of murders and not saying there is a suspect in custody.”

    In short, I’m proposing that saying “this is an example of global climate change” when referring to a specific warm-weather event is, in the long-run, counter-productive to the goal of changing popular opinion about climate change. Do you have any reaction to my line of thinking?

    BTW, I’m not referring to your point (2). I understand that snowstorms will actually become more common as the Earth warms, and I understand that fact *also* doesn’t fit with the obsession in the popular press about specific warm-weather events, but my question isn’t trying to tackle that issue.

  8. Are the northern plains generally snowless this time of year?

  9. Todd in Denver

    Not to worry, Phil, plenty of hot air from visiting republicans will take care of our record snowfalls in short time!

  10. CR

    @9 Lab Lemming… Well, when I lived there about thirty years ago, the northern plains (in my case, the Dakotas) were snow-covered this time of year. But I was very young and wasn’t paying close attention to know just how much snow, nor how long it lasted.

    I DO remember the blizzards there being fierce because of the high winds involved with the snowfalls (flat plains don’t really block the wind, natch), and drifts would often go up to the roof of our single-story house. Also, when snowplows would push the snow off the streets, if one was dumb enough to leave one’s car parked in the street, it would get buried under a mountain of plowed snow. (My friends and I, walking home from school the next few days, would pretend we were climbing in the Himalayas on the snow ‘mountains’ until the crews had time to acually cart away the snow the plows had pushed aside. Ah, youth…)

  11. I’ve gotten stuck in this damn snow (in Denver, where I be) twice in two days, and I’ve just about gone mad and turned hermit. I haven’t gotten stuck in the snow in years, even when I did a lot of driving around a farm with all the mud and lack of plowing that entails! Either Denver’s not real good at the plowing, or this was quite the storm.

  12. DrFlimmer

    Well, in Germany we had a particularly warm winter until late January. Now the wind has changed from west to east and we get all the blo*dy cold air from Russia (they are coming!). February is probably the coldest ever here, and we are below minus 10¬įC for about a week and a half or so. However, not much snow here. It’s mostly just extremely cold. Stupid weather.

  13. The Voice of Reason

    Hey Phil…What! You’re not blaming the snow storm on Global Warming! That’s a first!

  14. JMW

    Hi, TedPlayer @8. I’ll offer my somewhat uninformed opinion on your question.

    I any field of human opinion, there is always a spectrum. Out on the fringes are those who are fanatical, and as one gets to the middle there are more people, who are of more moderate opinion. It’s a bell curve, and depending on the issue the bell curve could be wider and flatter, or narrower and higher. It might be off-centre towards one side or the other.

    Now, I’m not saying that climate change is an opinion, but people do have opinions on the subject. And there are those who are fanatical in their belief that climate change is happening, is caused by humanity, and that we need to do SOMETHING NOW before all hell breaks loose. Just as there are those who are equally fanatical that human-caused climate change (HCCC) as a scam perpetrated by those who want to bring back the CCCP, because they hate freedom, free markets and America (in no particular order).

    Neither of those two groups has a particularly firm hold on reality, in my humble opinion. Nothing they say does anything to forward any constructive discussion on what is happening, how fast, and what to do about it.

    Someone once said, “Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.” As Phil points out, you have to take time into account. Only by taking measurements over a period of years, and comparing them with the same measurements taken over a different period of years, can you make any kind of statement about whether climate is changing. Or as Socrates (I think) said, one sparrow does not make a summer.

  15. Nigel Depledge

    Well, we’ve recently had about an inch of snow across the whole of England, so naturally parts of the South have ground to a halt and the media are running their usual “Oh Noes! There Be Snow!!!!!!!” kind of hysteria.

    Meanwhile, Wales, Scotland and the North of England carry on as normal.

  16. Nigel Depledge

    Oh, hey. Are the state lines really visible from space like they are in this picture?

  17. Bob_In_Wales

    Nigel @ 16 – You made me smile, then you made me think, than I did a bit of googling.

    Some borders _are_ visible due to abrupt changes in things like forest cover and other human environmental impacts. But look at this one! Now here is a border which _is_ visible from space, as photographed from the ISS.



  18. MMM

    ” contrary to any soundbite you might hear, snowstorms will actually become more common as the Earth warms”

    I’d argue it is a bit more complicated than that: snowstorms will become larger in regions that are still cold enough for snow (due to more moisture in the atmosphere), and in regions that can be hit by lake-effect snow (because lakes will stay liquid longer)… but the first snowfall will generally be later, the last snowfall earlier, and some snowstorms in the middle will become rainstorms (says a DC resident, who has seen several rain events in the 30s this year that might have been snow in a slightly colder year).

    So, I’d argue that the effect on snowstorms from a warmer planet is too complicated to be summed up as “more common”.


  19. sHx

    Here in the eastern half of Australia, we are having another year without a summer. Sydney has been cloudy and rainy almost every day. Since the beginning of the summer, we have had only a few warm and sunny spells. Floods are again causing havoc, though fortunately with fewer loss of life. According to climate scientists, rain and floods was exactly what climate models predicted.

    In the years past, we used to welcome the cools spells in what used to be hot and dry summers. At the time, we were told by climate scientists to expect drought and heat wave conditions to get worse because of global warming and that the water supply to major cities would be under threat. Two de-salination plants were built in Brisbane and Sydney for a billion bucks a piece. The one in Brisbane got flooded last year.

    Hoi Polloi get confused by the apparent failure of predictions by climate models. Like the time when George Monbiot said, “you see that snow outside the window? That’s how global warming looks like”. He said that to a crowd who were led to believe for a decade that snow was becoming a thing of the past.

    The failure is not in the science at all but in the communication! Yes, sir!

    Climate scientists have always said ‘weather extremes’ would become the new reality with global warming and so it has. We have had extreme weather galore this northern winter and southern summer. More proof we are headed towards a looming catastrophe brought by Human-Induced Rapid Global Overheating.

  20. Jeff

    An interesting note on weird Florida weather, again not proof of global warming, but in 30 years here, I have not seen less cold fronts going through this winter than any winter; usually florida is a stage seeing one cold front after another all winter , not this year at all. Very weird.

    It is connected to colorado’s snow, as it was ridging big time in the east and up to Iceland, it caused the snow in the west and a storm in california on the other side. Europe also had a similar weird event this week with a siberian cP airmass penetrating down to Tenerife and pumping feet of snow in the Adriatic mountains and bitter cold northeast of that. Even BBC london weathermen have been complaining about the cold .

  21. Ted Player

    sHx wrote:”We have had extreme weather galore this northern winter and southern summer. More proof we are headed towards a looming catastrophe brought by Human-Induced Rapid Global Overheating.”

    My point is that claims like the one you made here are counter-productive because they are so easily countered. I live in a place that usually gets a lot of snow in the winter, but we are having a very mild winter so far. One season does not climate make! Pretending one storm or one season is good evidence (either way) does a true disservice.

  22. JB of Brisbane

    @JMW #15 – I think it was one of Will Shakespeare’s plays, wasn’t it?
    “One swallow doth not a summer make, nor iron bars a cage.”

  23. Nigel Depledge

    Jeff (21) said:

    Even BBC london weathermen have been complaining about the cold .

    Well, to be fair, complaining about the weather is what it means to be British.

    It’s always too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too snowy, too cloudy, too sunny, too windy or too still here. ūüėČ

  24. Jeff

    24 : Nigel, hear ya. I personally am glad I was lucky enough to get a job in Florida my career, I actually have enjoyed the sunshine here and every winter am glad I’m not freezing; I did that the first half of my life as a kid in Wisconsin. But I was mother’s perfect student at UW-Madison which helped me get my job in Fla.

  25. Tony Mach

    Good to see that you don’t fall for the correlation trap, like the climate deniers always do. As you explain far better than I could snow does clearly correlate with temperatures, it just isn’t a good temperature proxy. You can see that with the receding glaciers!

    Keep up the good work!

  26. Nigel Depledge

    @ Jeff (25) –
    I’m not sure I could live in Florida, irrespective of how sunny it is most of the time. Besides, I think I would get bored with weather being the same for long stretches of time. At least in Britain the weather is never boring. Dreary, occasionally, but never boring.

    Having said that, I guess hurricanes, to which Florida is susceptible IIUC, are the complete opposite of boring.

  27. Jeff

    27- Nigel, correct on all counts.

    Yes, I’ve lived here 30 years, and it’s like a time warp because with the constant sameness, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to distingish one time interval from another. But I really love the sun. I read that Florida isn’t the sunniest 10 places, I guess Yuma, arizona is number one in annual sun hours. The humidity here punctuates the days mainly in afternoon with thunderstorms.

    I’ve been through one tropical storm/ hurricane after another. They are spooky and cause real human suffering.

  28. Its worth stressing I think that Global Overheating is a global phenomenon – not just regional. Different regions may react in different ways but the overall trend is definitely for hotter rather than cooler conditions despite what you may read intheMurdoch media.

    See :


    There is also this rational explanation for why the European climate has had a few unusally cool winters :


    @20. sHx :

    Here in the eastern half of Australia, we are having another year without a summer. Sydney has been cloudy and rainy almost every day. Since the beginning of the summer, we have had only a few warm and sunny spells. Floods are again causing havoc, though fortunately with fewer loss of life. According to climate scientists, rain and floods was exactly what climate models predicted.

    But Adelaide, here in South Australia where I live, has had one of its hottest starts to the New Year ever this year and had quite a heatwave a week or so ago. Plus you’re forgetting that last year – and the start of this year – have been affected by the La Nina*-ENSO climate pattern. With 2011 the hottest La Nina year on record. See :


    Among other places.

    If it stays as cool and wet for say *five* years in a row, if we don’t have any more El Nino years that driver global abverage tenmperature sto new heights then I will concede you have a point.

    But *one* regional summer, even two that are somewhat cooler than average are just noise especially when youlook at teh bigger global picture and teh longer term one time~wise. The last decades have been the hottest on record when Co2 levels are at their highest on record. Co-incidence?


    * Click on my name to see NASA discussing the La Nina phenomenon.

  29. sHx

    @Messier Tidy Upper #29

    Yes, MTU, I am aware that we’ve had a double dip La Nina in the last year and half. The current La Nina has peaked and the climate models predict it will return to ENSO-neutral conditions by May.

    And that’s as far as they can predict with some reliability. After May, the ensemble of climate models looks like a jumbled mess, or a spaghetti graph. We don’t know, for example, whether by next year this time we’ll be in El Nino, La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions.

    (WUWT has a reference page for ENSO which has all the latest graphs and figures. The graph I’m talking about is “NINO 3.4 Ensemble Forecast” the second one from the top here:

    Although climate models used for ENSO cannot reliably forecast conditions 12 months ahead (or even 6 months ahead), in terms of probability alone, a triple dip La Nina is less likely than a return to El Nino.

    We are however in the so-called negative phase of Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which is a pattern similar to ENSO but works on multi-decadal scale. When the PDO is in warm (positive) phase, El Ninos are stronger and more frequent than La Ninas. When the PDO is in cool (negative) phase, the reverse happens.

    I don’t agree that cool and wet weather for five years in a row will prove either global warming or global cooling. Five years of similar weather would not necessarily signal a permanent regime change for it could well be a multi-decadal natural variation. After a decade of below average rainfall in Australia, many people claimed that drought was now the new norm in this continent in a globally warming world. That’s why those (now useless) desalination plants were built.

    BTW, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, the two years from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2011 was the second wettest two years in a row on record in Australia (1973/74 have the highest rainfall figures). If we get another wet and cool 2012, or a triple dip La Nina, perhaps then the CAGW (with all its predictions of permanent regime shifts) will be out, and the natural fluctuations of PDO will be in as the major driver of climate.



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar