What if Boston Had Record Low Snowfall?

March 16th, 2015 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

By yesterday evening, Boston officially received its greatest seasonal snowfall on record, 108.6 inches. The popular meme is that this is just one more example of human-caused climate change.

But unless you are in elementary school, or just don’t pay attention to what scientists or Al Gore say, you will remember when global warming was going to cause less snow.

If the Boston snows have been the result of global warming, how do we explain the long-term decrease in Washington DC snowfall?…


Or New York City snowfall?…


Those cities should also be experiencing more snow if global warming is to blame.

So, I ask, what would have been blamed if Boston (or New England in general) had received record low snow amounts this winter? Or, if the same region had seen record warmth, rather than record cold?

I will guarantee you — global warming would have also been blamed.

You see, this is the trouble with global warming theory. Everything that happens is folded into it, resulting in an endless list of absurd, and often contradictory, claims about the things that global warming / climate change causes.

Is it any wonder that the public is increasingly dismissive of what we climate scientists say?

A PhD and a computer have, so far, been insufficient tools to provide useful predictions of the future of our climate system. The current state of climate science — or maybe I should say, how scientists have allowed the media and politicians to portray it — is a continuing source of embarrassment to some of us.

36 Responses to “What if Boston Had Record Low Snowfall?”

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  1. That is the most comprehensive list I have ever seen! Great. It really brings out how ridiculous AGW enthusiast are, and the lengths they go to in trying to prove their point.

  2. ossqss says:

    Oh boy, I see an adjustment coming in how snowfall will be reported that could change things. Rain equivalent snowfall ratio?

    If it is like GISS, they simply change it overnight and boom, it is new fact!

    JB tweeted a link to a list of quotes made on climate change the other day that dropped my jaw as it relates to this type of subject. Makes one think about what or who’s “climate” is really involved.

  3. Milton B says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    You repeatedly display an alarming lack of understanding of statistics for somebody who has a PhD in science. You don’t seem to grasp the most basic concept of mean and variation.

    Imagine a statistic (annual snowfall for example) that has a given mean and standard deviation. If we take samples of this statistic (like choosing a snowfall total for a given year) on average it will be the mean, but individual values will deviate from the mean by an amount proportional to the standard deviation.

    Simple enough.

    Now suppose you **change** the distribution so that the mean decreases but the standard deviation increases. What do you expect? On average, samples from the distribution will be smaller, but the variations from the mean will be greater. You should expect to see both higher and lower extreme values than you did before even though the mean has decreased.

    So it is absolutely expected that if the climate **changes**, we will see more extreme values (both higher and lower) regardless whether the mean of the values are increasing (temperature) or decreasing (snowfall).

    You seem to find such an assertion exasperating, but I find people who conflate means and extreme values even more exasperating.

    Unless the climate magically changes so that the variance of every statistic decreases everywhere, we will see more extreme events. Climate scientists have long predicted this.


    • Steve Ta says:

      Not clear whether you miss a /sarc tag on this one.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      …and they have long predicted FEWER extremes fronm the mean, because the reduced equator-to-pole temperature gradient drives less extratropical storm activity.

      So, once again, we see people like you who want to have it both ways. Supporting whatever explanation happens to fit what they happen to see in nature.

      And, yes I do understand the difference between mean and standard deviation. In fact, early meteorologists were among the first ones to advance the practical application of statistical methods.

    • Johan says:

      Milton B.,

      Even none other than Gavin Schmidt thinks you’re a fool.

      “General statements about extremes are almost nowhere to be found in the literature but seem to abound in the popular media,” Gavin Schmidt said. “It’s this popular perception that global warming means all extremes have to increase all the time, even though if anyone thinks about that for 10 seconds they realize that’s nonsense.”

      Then there’s a recent (2013) study by a team of British scientists published in the journal Nature, where the lead author Chris Huntingford claims that “When taken as a whole, global temperature variability has been nearly constant over the last 50 years”. But also: “The general view of the scientific community is that there will be parts of the world where variability does go down, so to colleagues this is not necessarily a complete surprise”

      It’s always nice to have it both ways.

      • Peter Stroud says:

        Yet in the UK, we heard Prof Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist of our Met Office, say that the excessive rain in the 2013/14 winter was caused by AGW. This was completely contrary to the views of members of her staff.

    • An Inquirer says:

      M.B. You need to put a /sarc tag on your comment because your sarcasm is too subtle. I feel it unlikely that you would be so far off base to be sincere in what you just posted.

  4. Willywolfe says:

    For the many of us who learned the story of the boy who cried wolf, there is a fear of the consequences. The eventual result of this hoax will be that all science will lose credibility. The politicians who bought the professional souls of the “consensus majority” of climate scientists will toss them into the garbage dump of history and move on to the next convenient excuse to grab power.

  5. jimc says:

    An embarrassment? Yes. But for who? Yours is not the only profession that has seen invasion and corruption for the sake of a flawed political ideology. Think law, journalism, academia, education, entertainment, diplomacy, and on and on.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      embarrassment with my profession is enuf for me to deal with 😉

      • dave says:


        It is a truth – a dis-heartening truth – that there is little new in scientific conspiracy to ensure “product placement.”

        I was recently reading about the issuance in 1873 of James Maxwell’s book “A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.” A man called Tait wrote an anonymous review in “Nature” (the one and only) stating that Maxwell had now shown he was just about “up there” with Isaac Newton as a genius. Did not mention that he virtually CO-WROTE the book with Maxwell, over the previous five years! They used to send postcards back and forth, using half-penny stamps (Maxwell was cheap, I suppose, as well as devious).

        • Paul Linsay says:

          In the preface to “A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism” Maxwell notes “I take this opportunity of acknowledging my obligations to Sir W. Thompson and to Profesor Tait for many valuable suggestions made during the printing of this work”. Yes, Maxwell is very close to Newton in his impact on physics.

  6. Frank K. says:

    Another excellent post, Dr. Spencer. Thanks. And yes, any extreme weather event in 2015 will used politically by the misguided followers of the AGW religion (aka “climate change” science) to further their agenda. You can count on it.

    • dave says:

      “…any extreme weather event in 2015…”

      Including extremely non-extreme weather.

      Meanwhile, for our amuse-bouche, we will see the final tick of the count-down clock on the prediction of Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge University, on 29th August 2012, for the Arctic Summer Ice:

      “It is truly the case that it will be all gone by 2015.”

      • Chuck L says:

        Joe Bastardi at Weatherbell predicts a 45 day period of severe weather mid-April through May. If it materializes, what will be the over/under on stories in the MSM blaming global warming?

  7. Lewis says:

    I quote Dr. Spencer: ” Everything that happens is folded into it, resulting in an endless list of absurd, and often contradictory, claims about the things that global warming / climate change causes.”

    I must take issue with this statement. Global warming is to blame for everything and there is no inconsistency. For instance, if my daughter gets pregnant, it had to do with it being a nice spring day, due to global warming. If the rooster crows, it’s because the weather was pleasant, due to global warming. If it snows more than usual, if it doesn’t snow enough, then global warming is to blame. The point is, since global warming is with us always, it is always to blame. Thus, no inconsistency.

    For a true comparison, see Family Circus and ‘not me’. It is always not me which means, it must be global warming.

    • Gunga Din says:

      Hmmm….If I tell the IRS I won’t be paying my taxes this year because Global Warming burned a hole in my pocket, do you think they’d buy it? 😎

  8. rah says:

    Milton B says: “Unless the climate magically changes so that the variance of every statistic decreases everywhere, we will see more extreme events. Climate scientists have long predicted this.”

    “see more extreme events”? Like????
    Tornadoes which for the last 2 years have run at historic lows?

    Like Atlantic Hurricanes that for the last two years have run at historic lows?

    Like wild fires which have run at or below the average incidence and severity for the past three years.

    Like melting ice at the poles? The Arctic, after a little dip earlier this year which I suspect you hailed as the end, is near it’s highest ice extent in a decade, and old ice has increased significantly. And the Antarctic sea ice extent ran at record levels for weeks last winter down there and is poised to do so again.

    Like catastrophic accelerating sea level change which has not happened and is not happening in a general sense as the rate of rise has not increased over all.

    Like massive crop failures? Humans produced more food in 2014 than they ever have in history AGAIN!

    I could go on and on and on with examples of catastrophes and extremes that have not occurred as predicted and in fact it has often turned out the exact reverse of what “many scientists” claimed would happen.

    But then I’m old enough to remember the 70’s when the drumbeat of gloom and doom was a coming ice age. Some of the same scientists back then that were beating those drums are selling their snake oil for the exact opposite today.

    Excuse me if the common sense of this truck driver says, that there is a scam going on here. I no longer select my sources based on their titles or who they work for. I trust the likes of Doc Spencer based on what they say and do and how the information they provide checks out with the real world I live in everyday and my own life experiences.

    I trust guys like Joe Bastardi because, though on occasion he misses a little, he admits it freely, makes no excuses, and keeps digging. Joe and his guys at Weatherbell BTW are saying it’s looking like our tornado hiatus is coming to an end because this year we’ll see a shorter than normal but very active tornado season. Based on his forecast maps it looks like the deep south is in the cross hairs come the 2nd half of April into May. And I’m sure if his forecast is correct and tornado incidence and violence increases this year over the last couple, you will gobble up what ever BS propaganda about “extremes” they pump out.

  9. geran says:

    The AGW scam attracts con artists. Two of the leading “Skeptic sites” are not really skeptics. They believe in the CO2/GHE nonsense. They censor anyone that is a true skeptic. One of the sites has been at it going on 10 years, and it appears it is his full-time job, earnings not disclosed! Follow the money….

    For anyone wanting to understand why the GHE is not science, try this paper. It is long, but at least read the conclusion.


  10. boris says:


    Progress is slow for science mainly because an awful lot of nonsense is promoted as “scientific”. At the core is the transformation of folks love of bright sunny days and clean rivers and lakes into “Environmentalism” on a grand popular scale. Happened back during the Nixon Administration. Rachael Carson, Barry Commoner, Paul Ehrlich led the charge right on the backs of the anti war movement. The “environmental” science was shoddy often faked though traditional scientists didn’t want to say so right out loud. The EPA cut its teeth on banning DDT when the overwhelming scientific evidence presented to congress insisted there was no reason to do so (Consensus only matters when the political objective is to beat down inconveniently well educated opponents of your infallible ideological goals) The EPA administrator didn’t even bother reading the hearing transcript before issuing the ban. As pesticides go it was like banning aspirin. Another of those “environmental” solutions that was worse for the environment in the long run.

    The sad state of affairs is that popularly “everybody knows” DDT was bad for the environment. The job you and others do to keep science alive is a real service to science and your fellow citizens who wish to be informed. Thank You

  11. rah says:

    Just imagine what the alarmist camp would be saying if something like this happened on St. Patrick’s day this year, or next or next: https://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/st-patricks-day-1936/#comment-504378

  12. What if Boston Had Record Low Snowfall?
    Why, it would have been because of climate change, everybody knows Boston is a snowy place in winter.
    Now, when Boston has a record high snowfall, and it may not be over yet, it’s extreme weather, which is of course caused by climate change.
    Any way you look at it you loose!
    Thanks, Dr. Spencer for staying within science, even as it is a shrinking realm, for the time being.

  13. FAH says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    The question of whether the frequency of extreme events is changing is one in which many people get deeply entwined and spend a great deal of time mulling. Part of the problem is that people sometimes assume incorrect properties of the underlying distributions and part of the problem is that extreme values themselves have low inferential power.

    (I will reference the Central Park NY data since there is a nice continuous record from about 1900 or so. I binned the data into 5 year periods from 1910 to 2014 to look at, but the arguments are the same. The stations in Boston don’t seem to have a continuous single station record – the downtown station was moved a few decades ago to Logan and so there is a break in the station and that leads to speculation on Boston’s utility for this line of thought. The numbers and properties below I can only vouch for in the case of the Central Park Data, but I have seen virtually the same phenomena in many datasets at which I have looked.)

    The basic argument for inferring something from extreme snowfall values goes like this. First, it looks like the total snowfall in any given time period (say 5 year bins) is decreasing in time over the past 100 years. Second, if one calculates the mean of the depth of the snowfall events (I took total snowfall depth over 5 day periods around a snow event, but it doesn’t make any difference whether you consider single day snowfall depths) and the variance, assuming the frequency of depths is normally distributed, one can convince oneself that both the mean and the variance are increasing slightly over the hundred years. Then the argument goes that if the variance increases, then an extreme event that was say 3*sigma1900 is now only say 2*sigma2014 and it is therefore more likely that what was a 3*sigma event now occurs more frequently, at the new 2*sigma level. It also turns out from looking at the data that it does in fact seem as if the frequency of very low depth (or trace) snowfall events is decreasing. (Whether due to UHI, slight trends in Tmin, or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that the very low end tail of the depth distribution is losing members.)

    The first problem with this argument is that even if this calculation of mean and sigma were correct (and it is not, more on that later), and the sigma increased by 20 or 30 percent, as it appears to, then the probability of the same value of snow depth that was 3 sigma previously would go to perhaps 2.1 sigma, and the chances of such values occurring by chance (i.e. if they came from a normal distribution) would be about 1/370 versus 1/70 per 5 years. This means we would have to wait a very long time to observe enough occurrences to see such a trend if that were the case, and we do not have nearly enough data in 100 years to conclude anything. In fact, there is a fairly extensive literature to the effect that so called outliers should follow a uniform distribution in time and to detect a trend in 3 sigma events would require waiting many effective time periods. This is partly why Roger Pielke says it would take a long time to detect a trend in extreme hurricanes.

    But the second problem trumps the first: the distribution of snowfall depths is not normal. We know it can’t be because it is bounded below, but does it make a difference? The answer is yes. It turns out the distribution is much better approximated by a lognormal. (You can confirm this by doing a qqplot of the means and also qqplot the log of the means. Or do a test such as a Lilliefors test (which I used) and the result is that the distribution of the log of the means cannot be distinguished from a normal distribution at the 50/50 level, i.e. the log depth is equally likely to be normal as not, according to the test. This is the best the test can do, it doesn’t get any more normal. Or you can just plot the data and look at it. By comparison, a test on the means being normal is rejected with high confidence.) If you then calculate the mean and standard deviation of the log of the depths you find no statistically detectable trend with time in either one. (By this we mean capable of rejecting the null hypothesis.) The standard deviation is only correlated with the mean, as it should be. The reason for the apparent trends in time in the estimates of mean depth and standard deviation depth is that taking the mean of a variable whose log is normally distributed biases the estimates and the bias gets greater (in the up direction) as more of the lower tail disappears. Since the lower tail of the distribution seems to be reducing its contribution (relatively small in total amount, but significant in number of occurrences) this change in the internals of the distribution produces increasing bias with time, giving an apparent trend with time. The point is that the actual underlying distribution of events is not changing in time and there is no reason to conclude any changes are occurring in the frequencies of extremes. Another way of saying this is that the scatter in the 5-year snowfall depth data (and standard deviations) over time cannot be distinguished from data pulled from an appropriately defined normal (in this case lognormal) distribution.

    There are two takeaways from this. First, be careful trying to infer anything from extrema of a distribution. That is the subset of the data with least information and the least inferential power. One is likely to see what one hoped to see and not what the data allows one to say. Most experimentalists agonize over whether they can ignore an outlier, rather than if they can infer anything from it. Second, when dealing with data like this (frequency of occurrences) always check the underlying distributions to see if the quantities being calculated are justified by the distribution. There are enough biases floating around in the climate discussion without introducing statistical ones.

  14. Rick A says:

    I am in Fairbanks, AK tonight doing Army work for the next week. Not too bad. Lows in the single digits and tomorrow and the rest of the week highs in the 30s. The bartender at the restaurant said snow was down this year and in Feb when the real cold spell hits, it only got down to 40 or 50 below. I asked him about last year and he said it was brutal, 60 to 70 below. Didn’t even want to go outside.

    It’s weather!

  15. Aaron S says:

    Roy, I am all for both sides of the political spectrum staying out of science, but its a bit late for that as the left seems to have high jacked the research of climate and moulded it to fit their agenda. I am curious how you feel about the new push from the Right for NASA refocusing attention and funding on space travel. Are you concerned about funding for satellite research getting cut? Or is this portrayal of science by politicians better?

  16. geran says:

    If you’re an AGW Alarmist, how do you “spin” record snowfall?

    Here’s how you would start:


  17. MikeN says:

    MB, you would then have to have more variation in one direction over the other. Plus you first have to have the higher mean before you can get the higher variance. Is there any theory of more variance without the higher mean temperature?

  18. dave says:

    Paul Linsay misses the point; which is that Tait’s review was anonymous. He did not declare an interest.


    “And what better way for Tait to fulfill his role of arch promoter [sic] than to supply the journal Nature with an anonymous [sic], adulatory [sic] review…alluding to Maxwell’s name as one ‘which requires only the stamp of antiquity to raise it almost to that of the level of Newton’…”

    From: Tendril of the Hop and Tendril of the Vine:Peter Guthrie Tait and the Promotion of Quaternions, Part I,by Chris Pritchard, The Mathematical Gazette, Vol.82, No. 493 (march 1998) page 35.

  19. Gunga Din says:

    A PhD and a computer have, so far, been insufficient tools to provide useful predictions of the future of our climate system. The current state of climate science — or maybe I should say, how scientists have allowed the media and politicians to portray it — is a continuing source of embarrassment to some of us.

    I can understand. You are a climate scientist. So is Willie Soon, John Cristy, etc.
    I believe God and endeavor to find out what it is He’s said and believe that. I understand and accept what they mean but I do cringe a bit when believing CAGW is equated to believing God. Politics and greed and a lust for power really has corrupted some religious institutions. Such things can corrupt any person or group of people.
    To be lumped with the what the corrupted are supposed to represent and what they’ve done can be embarrassing.

  20. rah says:

    It seems that some things will always remain the same. They’re still traipsing and skiing the same ground we did when I was in 10th SFG(A)and we were posted at Ft. Devens, MA. And have good snow to do it in. I wonder why they aren’t wearing over-whites?

  21. Mahesh says:

    A scientist once told me, that boiling an egg hardens it, and boiling a potato softens it.

    The real cause of this change must be something other than boiling, because clearly the same thing cannot have two opposite effects. These scientists love to have things both ways.

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