UNITED STATESNOAA's GOES-13 satellite image taken on February 9, 2013 at 7:01 a.m. EST (1200 GMT) shows two low pressure systems that came together and formed a giant nor'easter centered right over New England creating blizzards from Massachusetts to New York. The image was created by NASA's GOES Project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. REUTERS/NASA/GOES Project/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) (Photo : Reuters )
As major weather events like winter storm Nemo and Superstorm Sandy come and go, many wonder if climate change plays a role in the extreme weather that has wreaked havoc, most recently, on the Northeast.
Some climatologists believe that global warming might have something to do with the severe weather that seems to arrive with frequency, according to a report by the Huffington Post.
A climatologist who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, Michael Mann, explained the recent manifestations of extreme weather using a basketball analogy.
"If you take a basketball court and raise it a foot, you're going to see more slam-dunks," Mann said. "Not every dunk is due to raising the floor, but you'll start seeing them happen more often than they ought to."
Cold temperatures and high levels of moisture contribute to the amount of snow that a storm like Nemo leaves in its wake.
And when cold air combines with the high amount of moisture coming from the Gulf of Mexico, the blend creates a "perfect setup for a big storm," Kevin Trenberth from the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado told the Huffington Post in an email.
A blizzard needs just below freezing temperatures to transform water into snow and anything below that value decreases the atmosphere's ability to retain the moisture that creates the snow by 4 percent for every one degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature, Trenberth explained.
"In the past, temperatures at this time of year would have been a lot below freezing," Trenberth said.
Climate change is not only warming the air, but increasing moisture as well.
Sea surface temperatures are about two degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were in 1980 and this additional heat increases the likelihood of a major snow event by about 10 percent, according to Trenberth.
And when the warmer ocean collides with cold air from the Arctic, the contrasting temperatures create a more likely scenario for a bigger storm, Mann explained.
A climate expert at Princeton University, Michael Oppenheimer, says that global warming is responsible for increasing the possibility of extreme storms.
"Storms like this tend to be heavier than they used to be," he told the Huffington Post. "That's a fact."
According to a Huffington Post report, the National Geographic and Atmospheric Administration recorded that the Northeast saw a 74 percent increase in precipitation during the heaviest of rain and snow events from 1958 to 2011.
There is still a long way to go before global warming can be proven to be directly linked to any specific weather event.
But studies are being conducted in an up-and-coming field known as "event attribution science" in an attempt to prove the link between climate change and more severe weather patterns.