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Climate activists say snow record is nothing to celebrate

Bostonians tweeted triumphantly, cracked jokes, and tossed their winter hats in the air this week to celebrate the city’s latest title: snowiest winter on record.

But a contingent of climate change activists and researchers aren’t among those pleased with the consolation prize for a season of extreme storms.

“I’m not celebrating — I’m terrified by it,” said Emily Kirkland, communications coordinator at the Better Future Project. “We can expect more seasons like this as the world continues to warm, with more seasons of disrupted commutes, shut-down schools, and paralyzed businesses.”

Kirkland said she believes there’s a “direct connection” between Boston’s difficult winter and climate change.


Some researchers contend that warmer ocean temperatures lead to more atmospheric moisture and stronger storms when mixed with cold temperatures.

As activists fretted, residents cheered as though Boston had taken home another championship.

The National Weather Service congratulated Boston on the new record late Sunday, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh playfully tweeted, “we are truly a title city. There will be no parade.”

The Transit Police also tipped their hats to residents for making history, and a banner that added the record to a compilation of championships won by the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins went viral.

Although Walsh joked about the snowfall record, his administration said officials will analyze the storm events closely.

“The storms and snowfall of the past winter months may reflect climate-induced shifts in weather patterns,” said Austin Blackmon, chief of energy and the environment. “Whether or not they are linked to climate change, the storms’ effects on Boston and its neighbors are a reminder of the need to be prepared.”

Still, Kirkland said it was no laughing matter. The Better Future Project is planning an event with climate change scientists to discuss the extraordinary winter.


Juliette Rooney-Varga, an associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Climate Change Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, also was not amused.

“No, I’m not celebrating the record-breaking snowfall. But I do hope we take this opportunity to address the causes of climate change, while also becoming more resilient to the impacts we can no longer avoid,” she said via e-mail.

Rooney-Varga noted the number of homes, schools, and buildings damaged by record-breaking storms, and a hit to the local economy as reasons to put away the party hats.

“With a changing climate, we know that our infrastructure will be increasingly challenged by extreme weather,” she said.

Being able to attribute a particular snow event to climate change is an active area of research, she said.

Carol Oldham, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network said she was secretly enthused, but her competitive edge quickly turned to concern on Sunday.

“I like that we hit the snowiest winter on record, but I’m certainly not thrilled about the overall picture,” she said.

Oldham said statistically speaking, the snowiest winters fall within the past few decades, a pattern she says could be indicative of a changing climate.

“When we see one single blizzard or rain event, you can’t say, ‘This was caused by climate change,’ but when you look at the patterns, that’s a pretty significant correlation,” she said.

Now that the record has been established, she said, it’s time to get to work.


“I hope this year is a wakeup call, and shows everybody, no matter where you are, this impacts you personally. So let’s go ahead and solve this and work on the solution,” said Oldham.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.