Winter weather in April: Climate change not to blame

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COLUMBIA - Are warmer temperatures in the Arctic behind mid-Missouri's rare April snow?

According to Atmospheric Science MU Professor Anthony Lupo, the answer is no. 

Lupo said we are having “a very cold start” to spring, and that temperatures from late March to early April have been "unusually cool."

Missouri State Climatologist Pat Guinan said Sanborn Field, the official weather station at MU, reported measurable April snowfall for the first time in 21 years.

“Measurable April snow is unusual in Missouri,” Guinan said. “Sanborn Field reported 0.7 inches during the morning of April 2, 2018. Prior to this, the last time Sanborn Field recorded measurable April snowfall was on April 10, 1997 when 4.4 inches were reported.”

According to KOMU 8 Chief Meteorologist Kenton Gewecke, "The fact that it has been so long since we've experienced snow in April is more anomalous than anything else in this situation."

KOMU 8 talked to several people around the city to hear their thoughts on the prolonged cold spell. 

MU student Malik Jones said, “I think a lot of it is due to climate change - the world’s weather shifting.”

Columbia resident Marlene Lee said she thinks global climate change is real but doesn’t know if it has made mid-Missouri colder this spring.

“I think the scientific findings about the polar ice caps and other evidence is very true. And I am concerned terribly about global warming,” she said. “I don’t know if this snow, this late winter proves anything, because it’s too short of a period to know.”

Justin Loquercio, an MU student and Illinois native, said he should already be familiar with the unpredictable Midwest weather, but what he’s seen in Columbia is “extreme”

“I really have no idea. I don’t know why it’s 38 today and it should be like 60,” he said.

Missouri native Bryan Hill said Missouri weather has always been “crazy.”

“I’ve always lived in Missouri, so this weather I guess is just normal for me,” he said.

However, Lupo said climate change isn’t responsible for the colder April weather, as it would only give Missouri warmer nights and winters.

“I wouldn’t attribute something like this to a human-induced thing with climate change,” he said.

He said the real answer rests with something called “the jet stream” that’s coming out of the Pacific region. He said jet stream is a belt of winds that circles the earth.

“We’ve got a very strong raging system in the Eastern Pacific, something we call atmospheric blocking. And when we get a situation like that, it usually drives colder air down to the central USA,” he said.

He said this year’s La Niña weather pattern has also played a role.  

“One of the impacts of La Niña is to create these strong raging events in the East Pacific region,” he said. “So, La Niña makes these things more probable, and of course that’s led to a very cold start to April.”

However, Lupo said he believes climate change is happening and affecting Missouri. 

“The increase of global temperatures in the last 30 to 40 years have contributed to warmer winters around here,” he said.

According to data from the Missouri Climate Center, last year, Missouri had the warmest February and the 7th warmest year on record. 

Gewecke reported last November the winter of 2016-2017 was “unseasonably warm with record breaking warm temperatures and the least amount of snow we've seen since weather records began in the late 19th century.”

Lupo said climate change doesn’t spell the end of Missouri’s cold weather, like what we see this spring.

“Climate change would not interfere with the normal dynamics of the jet stream,” he said. “No matter how the climate changes, you would still have year to year variations and even decade to decade variations.”

Lupo said the recent weather patterns have been delaying the planting season for Missouri farmers, but temperatures are expected to return to normal soon.

“Given that our planting season is fairly long here in Missouri compared to places further north, we just need to be patient,” he said. “I think this year’s gonna be a good summer for agriculture. We’ll get regular rains and somewhat normal temperatures.”

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