The Snowfall Feedback Loop
Feedback loops accelerate global warming.

by Daniel Brouse
November 26, 2023

Global warming is causing warmer and shorter winters. Not only are White Christmases less frequent, so are icebergs, sea ice, and glaciers. An analysis and maps from NOAA found snowfall is declining globally as temperatures warm due to anthropological climate change.

Decline in Annual Snowfall

As the atmosphere's heat and humidity increase, precipitation is more likely to fall as violent rain or hail than snow. "Eventually the laws of thermodynamics mean that as you keep warming you're just going to transition more and more of that snow over to rain. You can get away with things for a little bit, and it can hide some trends, but overall the laws of thermodynamics will win out," said Brian Brettschneider, a climate scientist with the National Weather Service in Alaska.

Justin Mankin, a climate scientist and associate professor of geography at Dartmouth College, said with rising temperatures snowfall will not decline linearly (at a 1-to-1 rate.) Rather, there is a tipping point. Once a certain temperature threshold is reached, "we should expect the losses to accelerate. It means we can expect a lot of the places that haven't exhibited massive snowfall declines to maybe start to exhibit them with just a little bit more warming."

Albedo is the reflective nature of snow and measures how much light is reflected without being absorbed when hitting an object (e.g. the fraction of incoming solar radiation that gets reflected back into space). Snow has a very high albedo that reflects most of the light and absorbs very little heat. The snow-albedo feedback loop occurs when the atmosphere gets warmer due to human induced climate change resulting in less snowfall. The less snow reflecting heat back into space, the warmer the earth becomes. The warmer the earth, the less snowfall. The less snowfall, the warmer the earth.

Feedback loops and tipping points are parts of an equation that determine the rate of acceleration in climate change. When a tipping point topples and knocks over another tipping point it is called the Domino Effect.

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