Environmental Laboratory

What is the Siberian Snow Theory?

Dec 05 2016 Comments 0

The “Siberian Snow Theory” is a scientific model of predicting upcoming weather patterns based upon the amount of snowfall in northern Asia. Its creator and chief propagator is Dr Judah Cohen, a climatologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a director at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER).

Based upon the large amounts of snow that have fallen in Siberia this year, Dr Cohen predicts that the USA and perhaps also the UK will suffer colder and more prolonged winters than normal.

The science behind the theory

Monitoring the weather has never been more relevant than it is now. With that in mind, Dr Cohen has spent the last 17 years studying the relationship between Siberian snowfall and the coldness of winters in the US. According to the man himself, his predictions are accurate 75% of the time.

Dr Cohen’s theory rests on a few different precepts. Firstly, manmade climate change has caused the Arctic Ocean to enter a new era, with more surface ice melting each year. This thaw has a contributing effect to the amount of moisture in the air, which leads directly to increased snowfall over Siberia. The greater surface area of the snow means that the energy from the sun (both light and heat) is reflected upwards, channelling it towards the polar vortex.

This vortex is a complex weather pattern which traps colder air in the Arctic Circle. Dr Cohen hypothesises that the energy directed towards it from the Siberian snow has a weakening effect on its potency, allowing cold currents to escape south.

Exactly which part of the south they will affect remains unclear, with either North America, Asia or Europe all being equally likely targets of the cold snap. However, Dr Cohen is more convinced than either that his theory will hold true in 2016. “This year, we have had this very textbook situation,” he explained to Bloomberg News.

Not everyone is convinced

However, Dr Cohen’s theory is not given credence by everyone. The vast majority of government forecasters have been predicting temperatures higher than what Dr Cohen is promising, while the man himself has admitted there is a 25% chance he could be wrong.

What’s more, Dr Cohen has been incorrect on two previous occasions in recent memory. Last year, significant snow build-up in Siberia led the climatologist to predicting a cold winter for the US but in the event, mainland America enjoyed its warmest winter on record. Meanwhile back in 1998, the same thing happened – Dr Cohen forecast excessive cold when the winter turned out to be mild.

There is one factor that is common to both 1998 and 2015 – El Niño. The tropical storm caused by the gradual warming of the Pacific Ocean has a track record of upsetting Dr Cohen’s predictions, but with no El Niño in sight this year, the stage is set to see if his theory actually does hold water.

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