Boston has been blud­geoned with wicked weather this winter, and after rou­tinely shov­eling dri­ve­ways and trudging through snow banks, people wonder if there is an end in sight after the third-​​snowiest Jan­uary ever and another storm to kick-​​start Feb­ruary. Dan Dou­glass, a lec­turer in North­eastern University’s Depart­ment of Earth and Envi­ron­mental Sci­ences, breaks down how this winter com­pares for overall pre­cip­i­ta­tion, and weighs in on cli­mate change for good measure.

How has this winter’s pre­cip­i­ta­tion and tem­per­a­tures com­pared to years past?

To mea­sure a snow event in terms of pre­cip­i­ta­tion, 10 to 15 inches of white, fluffy snow is equiv­a­lent to about one inch of water. The winter monthly average is about 4 inches of pre­cip­i­ta­tion. December was a little bit low for pre­cip­i­ta­tion, coming in at 3.5 inches, and Jan­uary had 4.01 inches. There’s also been a fair amount of vari­ability over the last five years — Jan­uary pre­cip­i­ta­tion amounts have ranged from 1 inch to nearly 5 inches. December was also 2 degrees below average in terms of tem­per­a­ture, and Jan­uary was 1.5 degrees Fahren­heit below average. But one thing to keep in mind is any given day is going to be close to average. Some days will be warmer or colder than usual. But cli­mate change is cal­cu­lated using the average of 30 years of weather — that’s more than 10,000 days total. A cold snap or heat wave doesn’t come close to shifting the average.

What is data cur­rently sug­gesting about cli­mate change?

According to the data from the NASA God­dard Insti­tute for Space Studies, global tem­per­a­tures over the last 30 years have been rising by about 0.5 degrees Cel­sius, or about 1 degree Fahren­heit, and while some years are warmer and colder than others, it’s clearly an upward trend. The last 10 years have basi­cally been the 10 warmest years we’ve ever recorded — with 2010 being the warmest year. Tem­per­a­tures go up and down, but they’re going more up than down.

Where is the greatest change hap­pening, and will we see greater effects in the future?

The place warming the most is the high-​​arctic envi­ron­ment — Northern Canada, Northern Europe, across Siberia, and the Arctic Ocean itself — and in small ways, we can already see the effects to come. There are huge and notice­able dif­fer­ences in the amount of sea ice in 1970 com­pared to now. Glac­iers are also shrinking world­wide, and all that water is flowing into the oceans and making sea levels rise. In cities like London or Venice with a lot of low-​​lying land, two or three mil­lime­ters a year will add up over 50 years. The vast majority of met­ro­pol­itan areas in the world are coastal environments.

View selected pub­li­ca­tions of Dan Dou­glass in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.