December 22, 2008

White Christmas May Become A Myth

Increased levels of climate change in parts of the northern hemisphere are expected to continue to rise, effectively reducing the likelihood of a "white Christmas," meteorology experts reported on Monday.

Even though heavy snow this year will guarantee a white Christmas in many parts of Asia, Europe and North America, a 1.3-degree Fahrenheit rise in world temperatures since 1900 and projected bigger rises by 2100 suggest an inexorable trend.

"The probability of snow on the ground at Christmas is already lower than it was even 50 years ago but it will become an even greater rarity many places by the latter half of the century," said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarber, climate researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The German city of Berlin had its last white Christmas in 2001, and Gerstengarber says the chances of snow on the ground on December 24, 25 and 26 have fallen from 20 percent a century ago to approximately 15 percent in 2008. The odds are projected to be less than 5 percent by the end of the century.

"The yearning for snow at Christmas seems to grow stronger the rarer it becomes," said Gerstengarber, noting cities at low altitudes such as Berlin will probably almost never see snow surviving on the ground by 2100.

Evidence continues to mount that mankind is to blame for climate change, according to the U.N. Climate Panel. Drawing on the work of 2,500 experts, it says greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are blanketing the planet.

Emissions of the gases, led by carbon dioxide, have surged by about 70 percent since 1970 and could in the worst case more than double again by 2050, it says. Rising temperatures will bring more floods, heatwaves, stronger storms and rising seas.

"The probability of snow on Christmas has declined even faster in places like Oslo, where average winter temperatures are closer to 1 degree warmer and the early part of the winter is especially warm," said Paal Prestrud, director of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

"The conditions for cross-country skiing have deteriorated. There is now an average of 100 days (a year) with at least 25 cm snow. In 1900 that was 150," he said. Oslo's streets were clear of snow on Monday.


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