Weatherwatch: climate change cooks up ideal conditions for snow

the pilgrimage church of st coloman stands in the snow near schwangau in bavaria, germany
The pilgrimage church of St Coloman stands in the snow near Schwangau in Bavaria, Germany. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

Record-breaking dumps of snow across Europe most likely have a worrying cause

— Look at all that snow in the Alps; has global warming taken a break? Alas, no, it turns out that the recent record-breaking dumps of snow across much of southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria are more likely a consequence of global warming. Why? Balmy temperatures in the North Sea and Baltic Sea are cooking up the ideal conditions to create snow.

Right now, average surface water temperatures in the North Sea are about 8°C (46°F), while the Baltic Sea is hovering at about 3°C (37°F). It might sound bracing, but as data from the Danish Meteorological Institute shows, these numbers are a good couple of degrees warmer than average for the time of year. And herein lies the problem. “Global warming enhances the current snowfall … Anomalously high sea surface temperatures in the North Sea and Baltic are loading winds from the north with moisture,” tweeted Stefan Rahmstorf of the University of Potsdam last week. Meanwhile, warmer than average air temperatures across northern Europe in early January provided the ideal environment to turn all that moisture into snow.

Around the globe oceans are warming far faster than expected. Extra snow and rain is a consequence we are all going to have to get used to.


by Kate Ravilious | The Guardian