Friday, February 26, 2010

Record Snowfall in New York City

Nothing new here, really, as many news media and blogs have mentioned the very cold and great quantities of snow in the USA this winter of 2009-2010. The article states that the snow thus far in Central Park has broken the record of the previous 114 years, with another storm likely next week so the record will grow. Still, it seems appropriate to mention that all three U.S. coasts are getting more snow than the usual for the past few years. California is, once again, getting late winter snow in the Sierras, even as I write this. Snow just covered Houston, Texas, which is (by last count) the third time it has snowed there in the same winter. Three snow events in one winter is completely un-precedented in modern times. Who knows how often this occurred before 1700.

I was at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) this afternoon, and a colleague mentioned that there were not many flights landing or taking off, for a Friday afternoon. It looked a bit odd, actually, as LAX is usually a booming place on Fridays. But not this Friday. I observed to my friend that it was likely due to all the grounded flights on the East Coast, due to their massive snowstorm.

The interesting thing, to me, from massive snowstorms in areas that usually do not receive them is their effect on the Earth's albedo - the reflection of sunlight (and heat) away from the Earth. For all the attention lavished on CO2 and the so-called greenhouse effect, a far greater effect is the reflectivity of snow, particularly when the snowfields do not melt as early as normal but keep on reflecting later and later into Spring. The phrase "white as snow" comes to mind. White is a high-albedo color. The chief concern for many, including me, is the effect on farmers as they plant their Spring crops. Late planting due to cold winters and excess snow makes it difficult for the harvest in the Fall.

A friend recently had a novel idea to deal with the huge amounts of snow in the cities, and minimize the albedo from all the snow. His idea is to use construction haul trucks to create mountains of snow, similar to what construction sites do with excess dirt and rock. The mounds of snow would be packed down so that the haul trucks could drive up a gentle grade, dump their load of snow, then shuttle back around for another load. The idea is that, for a one-foot snow event, the amount of land covered by the snow would be reduced by having that snow removed and stored on the snow mountain. Who knows, it just might work.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

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