By Hanna Beukelman
New York state has always been known for its changing seasons. This winter season went 328 days without snow, falling short of an all time record by only four days. Is climate change a probable culprit to New York’s snowless streak, and how does this abnormal season affect the students of New Paltz high school?
While New York City and lower New York have experienced minimal snowfall, areas further upstate–notably Buffalo, have received alarming quantities. According to the Washington Post, Buffalo’s blizzard death toll rose to 47 individuals. This extreme variation in snowfall within a relatively small area is predominantly dependent on proximity to water, and while seemingly contradictory, is “an expected outcome of climate change” according to the Environmental Defense Fund. A warming atmosphere means that more water is being evaporated, leading to increased precipitation, and therefore snow.
Not only is more water being evaporated, but the rate at which lakes freeze over has also gradually slowed, causing the amount of time before first snowfall to lengthen in synchrony. New Paltz High school witnessed this delayed snowfall phenomenon firsthand on Tuesday, February 28, as students rejoiced in the bliss of a snow day, building snowmen and suiting up to step outside. While the misconception is understandable, variable and extreme snow is an indicator of climate change, not an argument against it.
It is these misconceptions about climate change that make it so important to distinguish “climate change,” from “global warming.” The reality is that many places across the globe “are predicted to be cooler, or hotter, or drier,” explains Mr. Seweryn, who teaches the AP Environmental course at NPHS. Many other environmental trends, such as changing weather patterns, wind currents, and ocean currents are in fact indicative of “excessive amounts of heat and moisture in the atmosphere.” Explicitly stated, hotter temperatures are not the only repercussions of climate change.
To claim that this winter alone is proof of climate change, is a scientifically unsound argument, explains Seweryn, since “no single year can be evidence of global warming.” Rather, data points upon data points all exhibiting patterns of increasing heat and moisture, prove that climate change is irrefutably real. “It’s the same way one bad grade on a test doesn’t mean you’re a bad student–you look at overall, your whole high school career.”
A scientific consensus concerning New York’s abnormal winter is that it is “one data point among many,” that helps quantify evidence that climate change is real, and imminent. There are additional environmental repercussions that result as an immediate effect of warmer winters: “Every year that we don’t get a serious frost,” Seweryn explains, “we get worse ticks, we get worse mosquitos. That has an impact on the ecosystems, that has an impact on human health, and that has an impact on agriculture.” Frost, though only a miniscule feature of winter to New Yorkers, has this butterfly effect on the mechanics of entire ecosystems.
No feature of winter, however, is miniscule to junior Parker Reed, who claims to love the rigorous schedule and stability of wintertime, as opposed to summertime, “heat also stresses me out– I’m uncomfortable,” she says. The abnormal fluctuation in temperatures, she explains, is nice in the short term: you “get to go outside, go out with your friends, in the middle of February”. The long term ramifications, though, are a much more saddening occurrence, “My immediate reaction is, ‘it’s so sad,’ because this is most likely going to be our new reality,” she laments, reflecting on her childhood snow days, stopping from playing in the snow only for a hot-chocolate break– “and maybe a grilled cheese and some soup.”
This sentiment is shared by many NPHS students, “I usually love the colder temperatures. I love the dark, even the gloomy,” shares Gabby Lutz, in a mournful tone. She explains that her seasonal depression has worsened this winter, “without distinguished seasons, I feel like my life is less structured.”
As climate change continues to worsen, our reality is impacted both environmentally and socially, and we must learn to cope with the possibility of warmer, wetter winters.