March is the snowiest month. We get lots of snow in December. Sometimes it is too cold to snow. When I was a kid (whenever that was) there were more snow storms, the total snow cover was much, much deeper, and when it snowed…it snowed, by golly!

Such are a few of the things people say about the weather. Of special interest to me is the idea that “these days” have less snow than “those days”…according to every one of every age of every region that gets snow.

Have you ever thought this? Have you ever heard this said? If you live in a region that gets snow in a regular basis, and this does not remind you of several conversations you’ve had, then you must be really focused on something because you have not been paying attention.

But is it true? Were winters “those days” more snowy than winters “these days”?

[A revised repost from Quichemoraine.com]

Please keep in mind that none of this applies if you spent key parts of your childhood living in a different part of the country. Like me. Since I moved to Minnesota, winters here have perplexed be somewhat. I’m from the Northeast. As far as I can tell, Minnesota has had exactly two blizzards. One was on Armistice Day in the year 1940 (16.7 inches in the Twin Cities but over 2 feet to the north and 20 foot drifts in Wilmer, 49 dead), the other on Halloween in the year 1991 (37 inches in Duluth, 22 dead). Both involved heavy snow, lots of wind, and other complications (like time of year, time of day, and wet or icy conditions). All the rest of those “blizzards”…nothing more than flurries by Yankee standards! Nonetheless, Minnesotans love their snow, they think they have a lot of snow, and Minnesotans of all ages wax nostalgic about the time, “back then,” when they were around five to fifteen years of age, that there were many, many, many very large snow storms every winter.

So what is the truth about Minnesota weather? How different was your childhood from the present? How do previous Decembers compare to the current one, which has been pretty much devoid of snow, in contrast to one year ago at this time when we had an epic amounts of snow?

Well, I assure you that this has more to do with your psychology than with any climate-based realities. Chances are you think you had more snow as a kid because of two effects; 1) You were shorter. The snow seemed deeper. Well, it was deeper, relatively…and 2) You have conflated several different years, so you are thinking of many snow storms that actually happened over a period of several years as having happened in one year, and thinking of that year as typical. These two effects combined result in your climatological memory of many deep snow falls on a regular basis when you were a kid. But chances are, it never happened.

It is possible that it did happen. It is possible that you remember a few years that happened to have a lot of snow falls, and a lot of them were heavy. We can investigate that. But first, you need to do something. You need to lay down the facts of what you think is true, prior to looking at the data. So, here’s three questions I have for you:

1) How many inches fall before you can call a storm a large snowstorm? Three? (That seems kind of wimpy.) Four? (Really? Four? Seriously?) How about six. Six inches or more is “a lot of snow.” OK, that is just a suggestion. You pick whatever number you want. Write it down. I’m going with six.

2) How many snowfalls of that size per year is “a lot of snow” or “snow like I remember it” or whatever. You have most snow falling during December, January, February, March. So, over four months how many snow falls of the size you think is “a lot of snow” seem, according to your memory, to have fallen? One per month for a total of four? Huh. You think that’s a lot? Does not sound like a lot. How about two per month. That’s not many, but it adds up. Three might be too many. That would give you 12. Maybe you’d pick ten. Eight to ten snow falls over 6 inches in a given season (including the aforementioned four months as well as October, November and April, just in case). If you picked these numbers, your idealized Wayback Winter would have had a minimum of eight storms of six inches each. Maybe those are your numbers. Maybe you’ve got different numbers.

Whatever. Write it down.

3) How much snow was on the ground in December in your idealized Wayback Winter? Total. If there were two big storms, that could have put 12 inches on the ground by the end of the month. That sounds like a lot, but maybe that’s what you think. Maybe you’ll be conservative and say something like six. Six inches of snow fallen from the sky in the month of December, unmelted. Or some other number? Whatever. Write it down. I’m going with six inches.

OK, let’s look at the facts. The following data are for the Twin Cities region of Minnesota.

How much snow falls per month? Is March really the snowiest month?

March is not the snowiest month. There are a lot of ways to look at this, but one source suggests that the snowiest month is January, with March the second snowiest. After that, it’s December (third snowiest), February, November, April, then only trace amounts in some of the other months.

How many storms of X inches do we get per year?

Let’s say you were born in 1984 and lived in the Twin Cities since then. You imagine that winters were snowier “back then” when you were little. Given the above discussion, you’ve decided that a “snowy winter” meant six inches were on the ground at the end of December and a total of six storms of five inches or more happened during the entire winter season. Notice that your estimate has become more conservative than what you made above, because you are staring to learn that I rarely write blog posts that confirm your preconceptions, especially when I’ve tricked you into having a particular preconception.

Anyway, this would all be in contrast to “these days” when we seem to have vast periods of time with no snow at all, bare exposed ground through much of December, and hardly any big storms.

So, let’s contrast “these days” (say, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008) with “those days” (say, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990).

Here’s the numbers. For “these days” there were no six-inch-plus storms in 2008, and only one each in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Pitiful. The occurrence of five-inch-plus storms was four, three, one and one; the occurrence of four-inch-plus storms was four, three, four and one. In other words, the total number of storms per year that are six inches or more currently is fewer than one on average, and if we drop our standards to four-inch storms, the average number per year goes up to a pitiful three. Wow that’s way less than our memory, which is something like six storms of five inches or more.

Now lets compare “these days” to “those days” using the aforementioned years.

The number of six-inch storms in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990 were zero, one, two and zero. That is the same as “these days” in that the average number of six-inch storms then and now is 0.75 per year. When we look at five- and four-inch storms, it’s worse… the total number of each type of storm is less during “those days” than during “these days.”

So, given this particular comparison, the idea that there was more snow…more storms and more snow in at least some of those storms…is wrong. That is a meteorologically reconstructed memory. Which is why we use science, and not culture, to characterize and study the weather!

Indeed, the total number of storms for these four-year periods is roughly what some of your reconstructed memories of the past could have attributed to a single year.

But wait, I could be making this up! I could have picked years that happen to be lean from the past. Why DID I pick those years anyway? Well, I’ll tell you. Those are the years that would have pertained to a particular person I was talking to about this the other day. But it is true that different years could give different results.

It turns out that if I had shifted the “back then” years by one, to include 1991, then the year of the great Halloween Blizzard would have been included. That year included several large storms, not just the Halloween storm. However, if I re-calculate the averages over four years including 1991 and dropping 1987, those averages become more like “these days” but do not significantly exceed them. If the Halloween Storm is part of your childhood memory, that does not mean that winters were generally snowier “back then”…but that particular year would be a source of memories of big storms and more storms that you could then use to fill in the other years that are actually rather pitiful in snow storm frequency and snow storm amounts.

If you still don’t believe me, you can do this experiment. Before looking at the data, if you are a Minnesota resident from around the Twin Cities, pick the four or five years that would best represent your youthful memories. Then, go here and select those years, select “snow” and compare. If you find a youth with a lot more snow storms and a lot more snow per storm, report back, we want to know!!!

Was December snowier “back then?”

Not according to the data I obtained in the comparison outlined above. The average number of inches on the ground at the end of December for the “these days” period and the “back then” period is the same. Four.

Go figure.

Comments

  1. #1 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    Most people don’t have detailed memories of particular years, so I think the most interesting comparison is your last one, mean amount of snow on the ground on a particular date. However, it seems precarious to draw conclusions from one non-randomly-chosen date. Why not just look at the average amount of snowfall on the ground throughout winter, and check that data for trends across years? Or even just counting the number of days per year that had any snow cover at all, and looking for a trend in that? That would be easy and much more reliable.

    Also, the cut-off date of “back then” determined by your questioner’s age is not the most interesting choice. My “back then” in Wisconsin is the 1960′s and 1970s, and I suspect many of your readers have “back thens” which extend even farther in the past. It would be interesting to see if all our memories are playing tricks on us.

  2. #2 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    I just did this, using your data source, and using monthly total snowfalls, beginning at 1963 (my earliest memory= the Kennedy assasination). The data show very clearly that there was more snow “back then”.

    I used the Vadnais Lake data, chosen at random. I have no idea where that is….

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    Why not just look at the average amount of snowfall on the ground throughout winter, and check that data for trends across years? Or even just counting the number of days per year that had any snow cover at all, and looking for a trend in that? That would be easy and much more reliable.

    As a statistical comparison, that is correct (and gets the same result) but that is not what I’m doing here. What I’m doing here is trying to get an idea across to someone who does not want to hear about the statistics, before their eyes glaze over with lack of interest.

    Statistically, I could have made the point in one sentence. but that so far has resulted in “Oh, I don’t know, that’s not how I remember it” every single time I’ve tried that!

    Also, the cut-off date of “back then” determined by your questioner’s age is not the most interesting choice….It would be interesting to see if all our memories are playing tricks on us.

    Well, I didn’t make the choice … that is the correct set of years for the last person with whom I’ve had this conversation before deciding to write this blog post!

    But yes, that’s why I supply the link to the raw data. My “back then” is in the 60s and early 70s. There were two or three years in a row in the 70s with big whopping snow storms, just like the 91 storm year for someone in Minnesota.

    Still works though. My memory of much snow, deep and frequent, is a matter of extrapolating from a conflated year. I’ll be the Wisconsin pattern is similar plus or minus some great lakes (my memories are from the Upper Hudson Valley)

    Regarding your back then: If you grew up in Wisconsin I’m not sure why you would use Vadnais Lake data!

    When I look at that five year period, I see four snow storms of five inches or more (fewer than one a year). (I couldn’t get the map on Vadnais Lake, but this is for Centerville, which is a few miles away).

    If you are looking at snow cover or end of december snow, then you really need to get the right geography. Minnesota has more early snow and more sub-freezing in December than Wisconsin, on average. Depends on where you were.

    So no, I don’t think it was snowier back then compared to now for you. Not to say it could not have been … but the point is that you need to declare your starting point as specified in the post, which you did not. For all I know you have no memory of snow in the old days because your family wintered in the Amazon!

  4. #4 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    I winter in the Amazon now, and regret not having done so “back then”!

    I chose to use your Minnesota data set because that is what you used. We are talking about temporal trends, not geographic ones, so any random place should do, as long as we stay away from the areas immediately adjacent to the Great Lakes, which might have different annual patterns because of trends in the amount of stored summer heat.

    It is not my memory of big events that makes me think the past was snowier. It was the greater prevalence of snow back then which sticks in my mind.

    Also, I don’t think anybody bases their memory of a snowier past on the amount of snow present on precisely Dec 31.

    Anyway, I am not confident of my analysis of your data source, because I don’t know what “snD” means in the column label of the raw data. I assumed it meant “snow depth” but maybe not. Once I figure that out, I’ll take a closer look, if I have time. I predict there would be a trend in total annual snowfall, and in number of days with snow cover, and these trends would justify memories of greater snowiness “back then”. But maybe there isn’t such a trend. It is great to have this data online, so we can check.
    Lou

  5. #5 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    OK, found the label guide: snD does stand for Snow depth.

  6. #6 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    I just now checked how many days had snow on the ground from 1963-date. This time I used Minneapolis data, presumably the most carefully taken data. I did a quick-and-dirty check, dividing this period in half and looking at the first (older) half vs the second (more recent) half. The first half had 2893 days with snow on the ground, while the second half had 2370 days with snow on the ground. It was indeed somewhat snowier in the past. About 20 snow days less per winter “nowadays” compared to “back then”. I am not sure if that alone is enough to account for our snowier memories. But this difference in number of snow days would have a big effect on the perception of continuity of snow cover. “Nowadays” snow cover is much less continuous than in the past.

  7. #7 James
    December 21, 2011

    You’re forgetting one key detail:
    More snow fell in “those days” because I was shorter back then.

  8. #8 MadScientist
    December 21, 2011

    Is it getting measurably warmer though? My landlord’s from Minnesota (though he won’t say where from, just “a few hours from St Paul”) and he swears the winters aren’t as cold as when he was a kid.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    Lou: By “snow day” you mean day with snow on the ground, and indeed, that has decreased with global warming across much of the reason. But the memories are always about slogging through deep snow, so it may not apply here.

    Mad, that is correct. It is way warmer here than it used to be! Again, global warming.

  10. #10 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    To get at the “slogging through deep snow” memory, we should look at mean snow depth. My analysis in Comment 2 looked at that (monthly snow depth) and found it was much greater in the past than now.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    Lou, you violated the procedure in that comment. If you look at ANY series of data over 30 years, there will be about a 70% chance of seeing a hump that you don’t percieve yourself a being in. You say your first memory was JFK’s assassination. So, you need to look at 1963,4,5,6,7 only.

    The fact that there’s a big hump in the 70s does not matter. That’s someone else’s hump.

    And, by the way, yes, it is quite possible for someone to find a period with more snow “back then” but do re-examine what I say in the post.

    Most people making this sort of claim are making a very specific claim, which I outline, nail down, specify a means of verifying, and which will almost never be verifiable .

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    Hey! I just noticed it is snowing outside! Not like the old days, though.

  13. #13 MikeB
    December 21, 2011

    If the ’4 Yorkshiremen’ had talked about snow, it would have sounded a lot like this thread. Enjoy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eDaSvRO9xA

    I have to admit that, coming from Southern England, snow was/is the white stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in relatively small quantities, and stops the whole of Britain from functioning for weeks at a time, even in my day.

  14. #14 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    Greg, I don’t understand why you think looking at the first five years is particularly important. There is no obvious reason to choose 5 years (and the results may depend very much on which 5 years you choose).

    The claim usually made is that it used to be snowier, or the snow used to be deeper, or whatever. They/we don’t generally put precise dates on the claim. Rather, I think we are claiming that there is a TREND (during our remembered life) towards decreasing snowiness, or depth, or whatever. My graphs do reveal a strong negative trend from 1963 to date in monthly snow depth. This trend seems to validate our subjective perceptions. Likewise my split/halves analysis revealed a big difference in duration of snow cover in the first half of my life and the second half.

  15. #15 D. C. Sessions
    December 21, 2011

    Not exactly on topic, but I suspect Greg will still get a kick out of it:

  16. #16 Tony P
    December 21, 2011

    The only snow we’ve gotten here in Providence was that little dusting in late October.

    Otherwise temps are definitely higher than normal and we get rain, not snow.

    The ground is damp, but it is warmer than usual, in fact above freezing at the moment at 38F.

    One way I can tell btw, I walk part of my commute to work. And I find I haven’t broken out my -20F Parka yet. A little faux suede number does the trick, and no scarf, gloves, hats, etc.

    Usually by late November I’ve broken that one out.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    Lou, it is because we are not looking at up and down trends over time. We are looking at a memory of childhood snow, which starts after you start remembering things then goes for some years. It does not have to be five, it could be seven. But a graph of the period from when your first memory is to the present entirely misses the mark.

    The claim usually made is that it used to be snowier, or the snow used to be deeper, or whatever.

    The claim is “When I was a kid, it snowed all the time, there were more storms, they were bigger, and we had so much snow I could barely walk through it” as a description of the normal year, as opposed to now when “we get much less”

    Similar claims, but different.

    You see, I’ve yet to meet a person of any age who had the opposite memory and lived in NY, MA or MN. One day a person who was 95, someone who was about 80, someone who was about 70, 2-3 people around 60, someone who was 50, someone who was 34, and someone who was 28 all agreed in the same room at the same time and who grew up in the same place that they had all had the same experience: The snow when they were little kids was more than at other times in their lives, including and especially now.

    Try looking at the long term data for 90 years and see if that works! It won’t.

    This is not about trends over time. It is about the way a certain kind of memory is constructed and how it relates to the present.

  18. #18 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    I am sure you are right that there are systematic memory tricks involved. But an actual trend also could contribute to this belief, and would also explain why everyone, regardless of age cohort, has the same impression.

    The trends do exist, at least since 1963. Have you checked to see that the trend really does not exist for earlier years? I don’t know, one way or the other. If there are no trends for those earlier years, then the psychological explanation would be supported.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    The trends can definitely matter. What is interesting to me, though, is that the average joe will use his memory of more snow (a false memory even if there was technically more snow because it is a memory of something that didn’t happen …. there was not a “snowy childhood” but rather a “snowy year or two” and the memory spreads it out across the whole childhood and exaggerates its intensity), and trust that memory, to describe once sort of climate change that really didn’t happen, but will use the fact that there’s more frost on his windshield than he expected to deny all the science behind global warming.

  20. #20 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    Yes, but my point is that it is not just a snowy year or two. The actual trends (in snow depth and in number of days with snow cover) are large and robust since the beginning of my memories in 1963. Look carefully at the graph I sent you, for example.

  21. #21 stinger
    December 21, 2011

    I’d be interested in seeing actual data about “Yankee” winters compared to Minnesota’s…. Great topic for the first day of winter!

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    Stinger!

    Data? You want data?

    Ranked cities above 50K population size in NY and MN

    1 Syracuse NY (number one in the country)
    2 Clay, NY
    4 Utica, NY
    7 Cheektogwa NY
    8 Amherst NY
    9 Buffalo NY
    10 Niagra Falls NY
    11 Rochester NY
    12 Irondale NY
    14 Union NY
    15 Duluth MN
    23 Schenectady NY
    24 Albany NY
    55 Eagan MN
    56 Bloomington MN
    57 Minneapolis MN
    58 St Paul MN
    59 Burnsville MN
    60 Apple Vallye MN
    61 Eaden Prairie MN

    etc. etc.

    Many of those in NY at the top cluster are in or near Buffalo, many of those in the MN cluster are in the Twin Cities (all but Duluth)

    source http://www.city-data.com/top2/c464.html

  23. #23 Stephen Wilde
    December 21, 2011

    “This is not about trends over time. It is about the way a certain kind of memory is constructed and how it relates to the present”

    I think that is the key point.

    I’ve got to 62 and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t say there was more of this or more of that when they were younger.

    What seems to happen is that the outstanding events from the past remain in the memory and the long periods in between of nothing much in particular get forgotten.

    In contrast, when considering the present it is the long periods of nothing much that dominate the mind with the exceptional events seeming few and far between.

    It’s a sort of ‘concertina’ effect giving an impression that the exceptional memories of the past were actually closer together and therefore more ‘frequent’ than similar events in the present.

    That isn’t to say that there are no spells when exceptional events of one sort or another really did group together for a while but that is normal too over a single lifetime.

    However,if one considers multiple lifetimes then things really do change such as the slow and erratic climate zone shifts from the Mediaeval Warm Period through the Little Ice Age to the Current Warm Period.

  24. #24 hibob
    December 21, 2011

    I prefer a much more biased measure: If the snow is taller than you, It’s A Lot Of Snow.

    It scales to preserve the “everything was bigger back when I was smaller” fallacy. “If the Snow is Taller than a Civic it’s A Lot of Snow” is the proper measure to use if you don’t want to take into account age-related inflation (of snow).

    The first only happened to me once -the blizzard of ’79 in Chicago. About 30″ of snow in a few days, 4 ft on the ground by the end of january. The mayor was on vacation in sunny Mexico at the time. Guess who didn’t get re-elected?

  25. #25 Stephen Wilde
    December 21, 2011

    “but will use the fact that there’s more frost on his windshield than he expected to deny all the science behind global warming.”

    That jarred a bit in the context of this article. No one denies that there was warming in the late 20th century do they?

    However, I remember the cooling of the mid 20th century too and before that there was a bit of warming in the early 20th century which the IPCC accepts was most likely solar induced.

    And the slope of those two warming periods was pretty similar with that same warming trend going right back to the depths of the Little Ice Age around 1600 or so albeit with lots of variability along the way.

    Not that I want to go too far off topic in this thread :)

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2011

    hibob, I remember that quite well. I remember the tv news film of the mayor returning to the city (I think it was snowing lightly) somewhat tanned, and very doomed

  27. #27 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 21, 2011

    Stephen, the snow really was deeper in the past, and there were more snow-covered days in the past (through 1963 at least). Even if memory was perfectly accurate, everyone would still say it was snowier when they were growing up. The existence of a fairly robust trend is sufficient to account for kinds of recollections that you and Greg describe. Systematic memory effects are not needed to explain recollections of greater past winter severity, and those memories are not necessarily faulty (depending on exactly what the rememberer claims).

  28. #28 Achrachno
    December 21, 2011

    I don’t know anything about this “snow” stuff, but I do know that back in the olden days we used to have “fruit frost warnings” on the radio every evening during cold snaps reporting on probable lows in various districts — Otterbein 25, LaVerne 27, and like that. We don’t have those anymore. Seems to be a lot warmer these days.

  29. #29 Stephen Wilde
    December 21, 2011

    “Stephen, the snow really was deeper in the past, and there were more snow-covered days in the past (through 1963 at least).”

    That was the grouping together of some colder years with a number of notable snow events during the mid 20th century cooling spell.

    Exceptional events of one sort or another do group together for a while but that is normal too over a single lifetime.

    I’m with Greg on the tricks that memory plays but the age of the observer and the years chosen are critical. When one looks at the actual statistics it is as Greg says. The memory enhances the recollection of extremes more the further back you go. That doesn’t deny that there were periods different from today, just that the tricks of memory exagerrate them as the data shows us.

    Even the mid 20th century cooling spell had lots of warm seasons in amongst the cold ones.

    So, whatever the character of the weather or climate when you were younger the memory will misleadingly emphasise it.

  30. #30 Stephen Wilde
    December 21, 2011

    “Stephen, the snow really was deeper in the past, and there were more snow-covered days in the past (through 1963 at least).”

    That was the grouping together of some colder years with a number of notable snow events during the mid 20th century cooling spell.

    Exceptional events of one sort or another do group together for a while but that is normal too over a single lifetime.

    I’m with Greg on the tricks that memory plays but the age of the observer and the years chosen are critical. When one looks at the actual statistics it is as Greg says. The memory enhances the recollection of extremes more the further back you go. That doesn’t deny that there were periods different from today, just that the tricks of memory exagerrate them as the data shows us.

    Even the mid 20th century cooling spell had lots of warm seasons in amongst the cold ones.

    So, whatever the character of the weather or climate when you were younger the memory will misleadingly emphasise it.

  31. #31 StevoR
    December 22, 2011

    beingan Aussie I’ve only ever seen snow a couple of times whilst overseas.

    So I think I’m disqualified from nostalgia here – if anything we reminisce about our summers being hotter which ain’t quite the same.

    FWIW, last summer in Adelaide, South Oz, was the mildest one I can ever remember – but the summer before that we had our longest heatwave on record and the year before that our hottest heatwave on record – or was that the other way around?

    “Snowmogeddons” and colder winters~wise, this clip :

    & this one :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDTUuckNHgc&list=PL029130BFDC78FA33&index=42&feature=plpp_video

    are well worth keeping in mind.

  32. #32 Clavis Panax
    December 22, 2011

    I have to admit that, coming from Southern England, snow was/is the white stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in relatively small quantities, and stops the whole of Britain from functioning for weeks at a time, even in my day.

  33. #33 Dunc
    December 22, 2011

    I have to admit that, coming from Southern England, snow was/is the white stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in relatively small quantities, and stops the whole of Britain from functioning for weeks at a time, even in my day.

    For values of “the whole of Britain” not including Scotland… ;)

  34. #34 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 22, 2011

    Stephan, you said “That was the grouping together of some colder years with a number of notable snow events during the mid 20th century cooling spell. ” In other words, there WAS more snow on the ground “back then”.

  35. #35 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 22, 2011

    Stephan -> Stephen, sorry for the mistake.

  36. #36 Stephen Wilde
    December 22, 2011

    “In other words, there WAS more snow on the ground “back then”.

    Of course, but there was also less snow ‘back then’ viewing backwards from the 60′s.

    Either way, the tricks of memory emphasise it far beyond that which is justified by the data. That is all that Greg is pointing out.

  37. #37 Joe
    December 22, 2011

    The sentiment has a long, long history.

    “The question “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”, taken from the Ballade des dames du temps jadis and translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”, is one of the most famous lines of translated secular poetry in the English-speaking world.” [Wikipedia, Francois Villon]

    Francois Villon lived during the 15th Century…..when the Medieval Warm Period was in the rear view mirror and Europe was entering the Little Ice Age.

  38. #38 stinger
    December 22, 2011

    Thanks for the follow-up. I’m fairly persuaded that the NE having the snowier winters is not just a product of your own memories of younger (shorter?) days!

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    December 22, 2011

    No, it isn’t, but within the context of my memories of Albany NY, I have a false sense of “more snow back then” which I can disprove with data. In particular, there were some big storms which may well have been linked to some of the storms Lou is remembering.

    Plus I lived next to a couple of big apartment buildings and they plowed all the snow up in a big pile next to my house. It was like fifty feet tall.

  40. #40 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 22, 2011

    The trend of snowier winters in the past is not very sensitive to the chosen starting year. The trend seems clear for any starting dates from 1963 through at least the 70′s, probably the 80′s as well. It might be valid for earlier starting dates too, but I haven’t time to check.

    Both Greg and Stephen agree that winters were snowier in the past, at least by these measures (snow depth and number of days with snow cover). Memory tricks probably exaggerated this difference, we all agree, but the sense that winters were snowier in the past is correct. The data is there online and is easy to analyze.

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    December 22, 2011

    Again, I think we are talking about two entirely different phenomena. The scientific/meterological question of how much snow is very different than the reconstructed memories.

    And, the example I gave … where I analyzed a specific person’s past in his own home territory, is an example of the last few years being more snowy than the five hear childhood memory sample.

    This trend will continue for the upper midwest, most likely, as global warming sets up conditions for increased snow in the plains and western great lakes many years.

    In the early 80s in boston, there was hardly any snow, but a reasonable amount of slush. In the very late 1990s, so in the young adult memory of someone born in, say, 1975, there were three or four winters in a row with no melting and 100 inches of snow falling. It would be interesting to see what their childhood memories are!

  42. #42 Stephen Wilde
    December 23, 2011

    “as global warming sets up conditions for increased snow in the plains and western great lakes many years.”

    Maybe,but the jury is currently out as to whether the warming trend will resume, stay subdued or even turn to a cooling trend.

    And even if it does resume it doesn’t necessarily follow that there will be more snow in such areas. AGW theory suggest more warming in the polar regions which reduces temperature differentials between equator and pole for theoretically reduced storminess.

    Also,the upper troposphere is supposed to warm more than the surface which reduces temperature differentials between surface and tropopause which should give reduced upward convective actvity for less storminess.

    I think more snow results from cooling rather than warming even in the areas mentioned. In particular,lake effect snow increases the colder the air becomes and a lot of the big falls around the Great Lakes are of that type.

    A bit off topic here though.

  43. #43 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 23, 2011

    Yes, the causes and future predictions are complicated. Luckily here we are only asking about what actually happened in a particular historical interval, and that has clear answers.

  44. #44 John Swallow
    December 23, 2011

    Why I now live in the tropics.
    The Worst US Winter Storms
    1.
    The Great Blizzard of 1888 (the Great White Hurricane)
    March 11 – 14, 1888
    Eastern United States
    Snowfall of 40 to 50 inches was recorded over New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut as sustained winds created drifts as much as 50 feet tall. Total deaths are thought to have exceeded 400. Most of the cities on the eastern seaboard were shut down for days, if not weeks.

    http://www.epicdisasters.com/index.php/site/comments/the_worst_us_winter_storms/

  45. #45 John Swallow
    December 23, 2011

    Why I now live in the tropics.
    The Worst US Winter Storms
    1.
    The Great Blizzard of 1888 (the Great White Hurricane)
    March 11 – 14, 1888
    Eastern United States
    Snowfall of 40 to 50 inches was recorded over New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut as sustained winds created drifts as much as 50 feet tall. Total deaths are thought to have exceeded 400. Most of the cities on the eastern seaboard were shut down for days, if not weeks.

    http://www.epicdisasters.com/index.php/site/comments/the_worst_us_winter_storms/

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    December 23, 2011

    Stephen: Maybe,but the jury is currently out as to whether the warming trend will resume, stay subdued or even turn to a cooling trend.

    No, it’s not.

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    December 23, 2011

    John, my Great Aunt Tillie used to speak of that storm.

  48. #48 Stephen Wilde
    December 23, 2011

    “No, it’s not”

    When do you think the pre 1998 rate of warming will resume ?

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    December 23, 2011

    Stephen, you are a Global Warming Denialist who has it all wrong. So I’ll answer your question with a question: Why do you insist on getting it all wrong when it is not really that hard to get it all right?

  50. #50 Stephen Wilde
    December 23, 2011

    It was a simple question. Why not answer it ?

    I may have a different opinion to yours but I’m trying to
    have a sensible discourse.

    Is the ‘Denialist’ epithet sensible?

    I could call you a Natural Variability Denialist but I won’t.

    Merry Christmas :)

  51. #51 wwwloujostcom#78674
    December 23, 2011

    How can there be any doubt about the actual temperature trends over the last 30 yrs? The Berkeley, NASA, and Japanese studies all agree completely on that.

  52. #52 ItPutsTheLotionOnItsSkin
    December 23, 2011

    Well, it WAS snowier here in the Chicago are in the past, as evidenced by the data;
    http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/winter/chi_sno_hist.php

    I grew up in the 70s, in which there were 6 separate 10+in storms in the decade. With more than one per year in some years.

    In the 80′s, there was one.

    In the 90′s, there was also one.

    In the 00′s, there was three.

    So, at no point did any other decade come any closer than having merely half of the storms, and none having more than one in a year, than in the decade I grew up in ‘back then’.

  53. #53 Stephen Wilde
    December 23, 2011

    It warmed from around 1975 to around 2000 since when the rate of warming has levelled off.

    There was a mid 20th century slight cooling and an early 20th Century warming that the IPCC put down to solar activity.

    The slopes of the warming trends in the early 20th century and late 20th century were similar.

    So, when is the late 20th century warming trend likely to resume at a similar rate ?

    We need to ascertain what factor is offsetting the assumed effect of more CO2 and when that offsetting ewffect might end.

    Any ideas ?

  54. #54 Stephen Wilde
    December 23, 2011

    “I grew up in the 70s, in which there were 6 separate 10+in storms in the decade. With more than one per year in some years.

    In the 80′s, there was one.

    In the 90′s, there was also one.

    In the 00′s, there was three.”

    Well there you go. Cool 70′s, warmer 80′s, warmer 90′s, cooler noughties.

    Data demonstrating that which I said.

  55. #55 ItPutsTheLotionOnItsSkin
    December 23, 2011

    “Any ideas ?”

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sun/about.html
    Comparing changes in the daily temperature range showed that the absence of dimming from aircraft pollution alone, when the entire US fleet was grounded after the Sept 11th attacks, made a marked difference to the temperature. This result hints at how much the effects of atmospheric pollution had been underestimated.

    It was a great show, with lots of data to digest.

  56. #56 Stephen Wilde
    December 23, 2011

    To: ItPutsTheLotionOnItsSkin

    The effect of less contrails after Sept 11th was to warm the days but cool the nights for about a zero net effect.

    The article you linked to suggests there was reduced pollution in the ten years to 2006 which makes it puzzling that the warming trend did not accelerate from 1998/2000 onwards. Instead it decelerated.

    However according to the Earthshine project global cloudiness began to increase in the late 90′s after a decreasing trend when the warming trend was ongoing.

    So I think the observed change in trend is more consistent with the change in global cloudiness.

    More clouds means less solar energy into the oceans which reduces the energy available to fuel the system.

  57. #57 Proofreading
    December 23, 2011

    In the last century, global average temperatures have risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (.8 Celsius). Last year tied for the warmest in the modern record. One place this warmth showed up was in the Arctic, which is a major weather-maker for the Northern Hemisphere, according to Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    One driver of this winter’s “crazy weather,” Serreze said, is an atmospheric pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation, which has moved into what climate scientists call a negative phase.

  58. #58 Stephen Wilde
    December 24, 2011

    “One driver of this winter’s “crazy weather,” Serreze said, is an atmospheric pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation, which has moved into what climate scientists call a negative phase.”

    That is correct but the odd thing is that a negative Arctic Oscillation is also associated with a less active sun and cooling trends.

    I accept the warming effect of more CO2 and I accept that there would be an effect on climate by that extra CO2 altering the size positions and relative intensities of the permanent climate zones. The difficulty then is in ascertaining the scale of the CO2 effect as compared to the natural effects from solar and oceanic variability.

    That could make a huge difference to the timescale we need to work to with any mitigation or adaptation strategies.

  59. #59 Greg Laden
    December 24, 2011

    The difficulty then is in ascertaining the scale of the CO2 effect as compared to the natural effects from solar and oceanic variability.

    Not really. Modern climate models and piles of emperical data give us a pretty darn good understanding of that.

  60. #60 Stephen Wilde
    December 24, 2011

    That’s nice to know.

    So someone must have anticipated the recent deceleration in the rate of warming and someone must know when the pre 1998 rate of warming is going to resume ?

    Could you refer me to them ?

  61. #61 Jim Thomerson
    December 24, 2011

    Back in the late 1930s-early 1940s we would butcher a hog and a yearling steer every fall. We had a smokehouse, but no electricity. We cured meats and smoked them and depended on cool weather. I really liked the sausages,etc, which we produced. We stopped butchering in this way. I asked my father why. He said it was because it did not get cold in November any more. This was in the Texas Hill Country.

  62. #62 Greg Laden
    December 25, 2011

    Stephen, you are on rather thin ice, and not just because the earth is warming and the lakes are not as frozen over as they used to be. Do read my blog policy. Comments by global warming denialists are generally unwelcome. And yes, the moment you start telling me that I’m repressing you by saying that, you are banned and your comments will all be summarily deleted.

  63. #63 NJ
    December 26, 2011

    Dr. Wankerman @ 62:

    it is not manmade unless you are willing to count HAARP

    Stores are open, now, sport. Feel free to go fetch yourself some more tinfoil for your hat….

  64. #64 ligne
    December 26, 2011

    compared to current human emissions of 30GT/yr,
    “the 18 May 1980 paroxysm of Mount St. Helens is estimated to have released only about 0.01 gigaton of CO_2″. http://www.agu.org/pubs/pdf/2011EO240001.pdf

  65. #65 ligne
    December 26, 2011

    and i’m frankly baffled as to how Stephen Wilde has established that the planet stopped cooling back in 1998. since it clearly did noo such thing:

    http://woodfortrees.org/plot/best/from:1970/to:2010.1/plot/best/from:1998/to:2010.1/trend/plot/best/from:1970/to:1998/trend

  66. #66 ligne
    December 26, 2011

    and i’m frankly baffled as to how Stephen Wilde has established that the planet stopped cooling back in 1998. since it clearly did noo such thing:

    http://woodfortrees.org/plot/best/from:1970/to:2010.1/plot/best/from:1998/to:2010.1/trend/plot/best/from:1970/to:1998/trend

  67. #67 ligne
    December 26, 2011

    apologies for the double post, and i obviously meant “stopped warming back in 1998″.

  68. #68 ligne
    December 26, 2011

    …whereas a site run by a former director of communications for (republican) senator james inhofe, well…that’s perfectly reasonable source of information, right?

    definitely no possibility of an agenda there.

    no.

  69. #69 NJ
    December 26, 2011

    Dr. Wank @ 69:

    I tend to stay away from the ones funded by hard left wingers with an agenda in mind. doctors who could medicate me back to a semblance of sanity.

    FIFY.

  70. #70 Stephen Wilde
    December 27, 2011

    “and i’m frankly baffled as to how Stephen Wilde has established that the planet stopped cooling back in 1998. since it clearly did noo such thing:

    http://woodfortrees.org/plot/best/from:1970/to:2010.1/plot/best/fro

    The BEST figures are for land only which is less than 30% of the surface.

    Try this:

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/UAH_LT_1979_thru_November_2011.png

  71. #71 ligne
    December 27, 2011

    that *is* a nice elephant he’s fitted there…

    but UAH still shows warming, at the same rate as before 1998:

    http://woodfortrees.org/plot/uah/plot/uah/from:1998/trend/plot/uah/to:1998/trend

  72. #72 ligne
    December 28, 2011

    it seems poor Dr. Weatherman has apparently been too busy to read what Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn (inventors of the TCP and IP communication protocols) had to say about it:

    http://www.eecs.umich.edu/~fessler/misc/funny/gore,net.txt

    which is strange, because he seems much more obsessed with Gore than any climatologist i’m aware of.

  73. #73 NJ
    December 29, 2011

    Dr. Wank @ 74:

    B – I it me.

    Do hang on sport! It’s nearly the first of the month and you can get your meds renewed soon…

  74. #74 NJ
    December 30, 2011

    Dr. Wank @ 77:

    Be sure to include some hemmoroid remover kits in there.

    Better focus on the psycho-active meds, son, and stay away from the anti-hemorrhoid stuff. It might be your head would shrink away…

  75. #75 Douglas Kennedy
    December 31, 2011

    There may be a bit of “relative perspective” at work when we remember things from our childhood. We were shorter then, so even 4″ of snow looked like 6″ or maybe 8″ !

    People talk about how time seems to go faster as you get older…another “relative” situation perhaps: one minute to a 10 yr old is a much bigger percent of his/her entire life experience over 10 yrs…compare that to the minute I experience as a 55 yr old…it is a much smaller % of my “life memory spectrum.” So it SEEMS shorter…just like 4″ of snow seemed bigger back then. ?maybe?

  76. #76 Greg laden
    January 1, 2012

    What does the weather tomorrow or this week have to do with global warming? Are you seriously that misinformed?

  77. #77 NJ
    January 1, 2012

    Dr. Wank @ 83:

    No I am not misinformed.

    But it’s clear you are undermedicated. But, tomorrow is a new month, and your risperidone or clozapine will be available.

  78. #78 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2012

    Well I figure that if a meteorologist cannot predict the weather accurately outside of 10 days, then why would I trust said weatherman to predict it for the next century?

    That used to be a common misconception, but at this point, it is little more than a lie of the global warming denialists.

  79. #79 Alan
    January 1, 2012

    Why do smart people feed climate trolls?

  80. #80 NJ
    January 2, 2012

    DRW@85:

    TODAY is a new month

    But the drugstore couldn’t fill your script until this am, you know, because your mom’s insurance is picky about dates. You should be good until the end of this month; see you on another post!

  81. #81 ligne
    January 2, 2012

    “Well I figure that if a meteorologist cannot predict the weather accurately outside of 10 days, then why would I trust said weatherman to predict it for the next century?”

    well *i* figure that if a statistician cannot predict the tenth flip of a coin, then why would i trust said statistician to predict the number of heads in a thousand flips?

    “Was it manmade global warming caused form SUVs and lightbulbs that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs or the largest ice age? NO! Climate changes becuase it is a natural process.”

    forest fires have been happening naturally for millions of years. so it’s logically impossible for my discarded barbecue to have caused that forest to burn down. can’t argue with watertight logic like that…

    oh, and he’s a biblical literalist as well as an AGW denialist and alt-med loon. yay i win at crank bingo!

    i thought he’d just blown his poe when i saw his posts ranting about haemorrhoids, but this return to form has restored my faith. thanks, Dr. :-)

  82. #82 Scotlyn
    January 2, 2012

    Interesting post…
    “Back when I was a kid, we had real winters”…and real summers, too, don’t forget!

    I think this phenomenon says more about the subjective workings of memory, than about our failure to understand statistics (although the emotional power of the former may certainly contribute to the latter).

    It seems to me that mental concepts such as “winter” gradually become imbued with the emotional impact of actual true-to-type experiences involving snow or similar iconic weather/activities. Similarly, the concept of “summer” becomes associated with actual true-to-type experiences of beaches and sunburn. Misleadingly, it then becomes difficult to remember that years gone by also featured summer days which were rainy and cold, or winter days which were warmish and sun-filled – unless something else with a powerful emotional impact (funeral, break-up, etc) were to have happened on such a day. Even then, the not-true-to-type nature of such a day would become, in retrospective memory, all the more ominous and meaningful.

    This is why it is so important to have objective tools to record and measure things that the vast majority of us have no hope of remembering with any accuracy.

  83. #83 Emma Stanicek
    January 3, 2012

    I am still a student in high school, so I am always hoping for snow days. On the occasional days we do have them, my parents always talk about how “this” snow is nothing compared to when they were my age. When I was younger I always used to wish that it would snow more like when my parents were younger. Reading this it made me realize that, their memories and ideas of what “back then” was and what the snow was like “back then” is actually fuzzy. If I were to use your data source, I think my results would be the same as yours.

  84. #84 Greg Laden
    January 3, 2012

    Now you have to go make your parents read my blog!!!!

  85. #85 Tony P
    January 4, 2012

    I recall 1996 was the year of the most snowfall in Providence, RI.

    For the season we got 120 inches of the crap. So much of it that they had no idea what to do with it until they just capitulated and started dumping it in the rivers.

    This year we’ve had barely an inch of snow since October 31st.

    No appreciable snowfall since that October 31st dusting.

    And here we are, January 4th and not a speck of it on the ground.

    And to be honest, I rather like it this way. I hate walking on snow and ice.

  86. #86 Dr. Weatherman
    January 6, 2012

    @ NJ

    Ligne’s faith in the pagan earth worshipped global warming god has been healed. Please don;t mess it up.

    Now if you don;t mind NJ, how about pulling down your underwear so that flies and gnats can have a chance to feed plus it keeps them out of your face. You job will not be finished until a fly crawls up your butt and circles your uvula and exits.

    Nevermind. men don;t have a uvula.