Are Winter Storms Evidence of Heat?

A popular theory explaining the cold, snowy weather this winter has been that it is being driven by “excess heat due to global warming.” Intuitively this makes no sense, and it doesn’t scientifically either.

If excess heat produced cold fronts and snow, we would see frontal movement occur primarily during the warmer months. Yet summer weather tends to be more stable, despite the larger amounts of energy in the system. Storms are the result of differences in energy, not absolute energy. If the entire planet was 100 degrees all the time, there would be very few, if any, storms.

Heat flows between temperature differences. It will flow from a warm object to a cold one. It will not flow from a warm object to another equally warm one. For example, if the tropics are warm in the summer and the Poles are cold, nature tries to balance it by creating hurricanes which move heat from the Tropics towards the Poles. This generally only happens in the summer/fall because there isn’t enough total energy available in the winter.

Tornadoes are similarly driven by differences in temperature. The spring of 2008 was one of the worst tornado seasons in US history, and it was typified by cold weather. Note that severe tornadoes have generally declined as the climate has warmed, and they were most frequent during the ice age scare of the 1970s.

Snow falls when cold air bumps into warmer moist air. Mountainous regions see more snowfall at higher elevations where the temperature is lower. Below is a chart showing monthly distribution of snow at the fifty snowiest sites in Colorado. Note that these sites are at high elevation (i.e. cold) and that the bulk of the snow falls during the coldest months.

It is true that the interior of Antarctica sees very little snow. This is due to the very low absolute humidities at minus sixty degrees, which make it nearly impossible to precipitate snow.

Wind blows between areas of high pressure and low pressure. If the entire planet was at very high (but equal) pressure there would be no wind. High pressure systems are typified by calm air. Hurricanes have very low pressure.

Now lets look at some other analogies. Two cars travelling at the nearly the same high speed in the same direction will not generate a lot of damage in a collision. A car travelling at high speed bumping into a parked car will release a lot of energy. It is the energy difference that is important.

A rock sitting on top of a high plateau has a large amount of potential energy, but no way to release it. A rock sitting on the edge of a cliff can release it’s energy by falling to a region of lower potential energy below it. It is the difference in energy that is important.

If you connect two batteries together positive to positive, and negative to negative, no energy flows. If you connect opposite polarities, energy flows quickly in the short circuit. Once again, it is the difference in energy that is important.

The point is that the snow in Florida, Washington D.C, Rome, etc. is being driven by unusually cold air which is colliding with warmer moist air. It is the difference in energy which creates the snow, not the absolute energy in the system. In order for snow to fall, it has to be cold.

About Tony Heller

Just having fun
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4 Responses to Are Winter Storms Evidence of Heat?

  1. Ulric Lyons says:

    So generally an increase in tornado acivity at solar minimum.

  2. björn says:

    We had a heck of a cold winter in sweden, the coldest i can remember since the late eighties. I think it was -88 but im not sure, we had two consecutive weeks of very low temperature, between -45 to -30.
    Also we had the most spectacular aurora borealis, northern lights?
    Its called “norrsken” in swedish.
    In the middle of the night I was awoken by strange lights shining from the outside, it was that powerful, lit up the lanscape.
    I stumbled out in a t-shirt and jeans to look at the UFO, but there wasnone, just the ever moving and twisting lights in amazing colors.
    Im ranting, anyway, do you think they could be related?
    The extreme cold and the lights?

  3. wayne says:

    Steve, just noticed you now have your own site. Good for you!

    Have considered one for myself if only to get a place on the web to put graphs and other visuals to post on WUWT. Did this consumer much time? Easy to maintain?

    Now, I need to some of your articles…

  4. bgcamroux says:

    I see you like using the analogy of heat as a fluid. This is, unfortunately, a fallacious analogy. Heat is not a fluid, and so does not flow. Rather, heat is transferred from high- to low-energy regimes.

    It is unfortunate, though, that the idea of heat as a fluid is so much simpler to understand than the proper thermodynamic definition. Therefore the idea has permeated modern culture.

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