The Link Between Climate Change And Those Crazy Snow Day Photos On Your Instagram Feed

Erie, Pennsylvania is covered in an unprecedented amount of snow.

More than five feet of snow have fallen in Erie, Pennsylvania over the last few days, adding to a series of unprecedented weather events this year, filling social media feeds with snow. Over a 48-hour period starting on Christmas Day, the National Weather Service says 58 inches of snow fell in Erie, adding to the five inches the city received on Christmas Eve and bringing the total to 62.9 inches in just three days. It was a record-shattering day of snow on December 25, when 34 inches fell. The previous single-day record in Eerie was 20 inches in 1956.

And, in between shoveling shifts, the city's residents have been there to capture (and upload) it all.

"We're used to snow, don't get me wrong," Joe Sinnott, the city's mayor, told The New York Times. "But this amount, trying to deal with this, is very atypical."


It's not Sinnot's imagination, either. The three days of snowfall also broke the 14-day snowfall record for Eerie, which was 59.1 inches. By Wednesday night, officials think the snow could amass 70 inches before the storm moves on. 

Erie's unthinkable storm comes on the heels of one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record, and will surely raise questions about whether this is a foreshadowing of the coming winter. 2017's hurricane season was the costliest in United States history, and by some metrics may have been the most intense. Many climatologists shared evidence that the busy storm season was a result of climate change and trends like warming ocean water. 

During that wild hurricane season, climate scientist Michael E. Mann explained to A Plus the ways in which climate change is making the storms more powerful and causing more precipitation. Reached for comment about the link between extreme winter weather and climate change, Mann pointed to his tweets about the storm in Erie.

Eerie's incredibly snowfall was the result of a lake-effect storm, where cold air meets warmer lake water and creates bands of snow that can concentrate in certain areas. During last year's spate of blizzards, Mann told ThinkProgress that the powerful winter storms did not contradict climate change theories. In fact, they supported them. Climate change models were accurately predicting an increase in the severity of storms because of warmer waters.

"There is peer-reviewed science that now suggests that climate change will lead to more of these intense, blizzard-producing nor'easters, for precisely the reason we're seeing this massive storm — unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures (temperatures are in the 70s off the coast of Virginia)," he said at the time. 

Other weather experts seem to think the jury is still out. Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with, said on Twitter that Lake Effect Snow has many moving parts involving large bodies of water, and that "generalizing such complicated reasoning to the Erie, Pennsylvania snowfall this week is beyond our current attribution science capabilities." He also shared a chart purporting to show lake temperatures in Lake Ontario, where there has also been a huge amount of snowfall, that were about normal for this time of year. 

Presented with Maue's commentary, Mann pushed back.

"Maue is a climate change contrarian and I find it difficult to take him seriously," Mann said in an email to A Plus. "A typical refrain from such types is, 'oh but it is so complicated', i.e. the standard trope that because we don't know everything, we know nothing. The theory and data here are actually pretty clear." 

While the debate about whether climate change is to blame for the record-breaking storm continues, many residents of Erie seem to have embraced the madness. Huskies are right at home in neck-deep snow, some of their caretakers are opting not to dress for the weather, and others have left signs outside begging for help in the form of wine. 

Check out some of the ways Erie residents are making the best out of the situation below:

Cover image via Shutterstock / Zoran Ras.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.