By Mark Sandeen
Q: Is anyone else wondering what the heck is going on with our weather this winter? Was our record setting snowfall related to climate change?
A: If you suspected that we have been smashing records this winter, you would be right. As I write this, we are less than 2 inches away from setting the all time annual snowfall record in Boston. We had the snowiest January in history, and the snowiest 7-day period in history, with over 40 inches of snow from January 27th – February 2nd. That is 8 inches more than the previous 7-day snowfall record. We aren’t just breaking records; we are blowing them to smithereens. So what is happening?
The NOAA image below, taken when these storms started, shows that the ocean temperature off the east coast surrounding Boston was 2 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. And we know that warmth pumps more moisture in the air, in this case about 10% more moisture than normal. The melting arctic ice is also affecting the jet stream, which is pulling abnormally cold air down from the arctic; and that cold air lingers longer due to the weakening jet stream. So when you combine the moist warm air rising above the ocean with the cold arctic air being pulled down from the North, you get massive snowstorms that last a lot longer than they used to.
Scientists suggest that only about half of the ocean temperature rise this year can be attributed to climate change. So that record breaking 40-inch storm, might have only been 20 inches without climate change.
If you’ve been thinking these storms are coming more frequently, you’d be correct. We’ve broken the all time extreme winter weather snowfall record 4 times in the last 10 years. And if you feel like we’ve been singled out for special treatment, you would be right. New England is seeing the largest increase in extreme weather events in the country; with a 71% increase in extreme weather events.
How many once in a hundred year events can we have in 5 years? I count 6. The spring floods of 2010, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, Snow October, the Blizzard of 2013 and now the 2015 blizzard – that made the Blizzard of 2013 look small…
Q: I understand that the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved moving forward with the Hartwell Solar project. What are the details of that project?
A: The Board of Selectmen approved a 2.25 MW solar project, which will provide about 31% of the Town’s electricity and reduce our CO2 emissions by 68 million pounds over the life of the project. That is enough solar electricity to supply 375 average homes or the equivalent emissions reduction of eliminating 86 million miles of driving.
On top of that, we expect the solar energy system to generate $14.7 million in revenue for the Town, while allowing the Town to continue all existing operations at the site. When combined with our rooftop solar project that went live in December, we expect our solar arrays will be generating 45% of the Town’s electricity and earning the Town $20 million over the next 25 years.
This is a large project that will require significant changes in the operations of the site and probably take close to a year before it is generating power.
I want to express my thanks to everyone involved, and especially to Bill Hadley and the Department of Public Works staff who worked so hard to make this possible.
Sustainable Lexington is a Town committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen
to enhance Lexington’s long-term sustainability and resilience
in response to environmental resource and energy challenges.