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Minn. snowfall records might be aided by climate change

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A tractor-trailer is stuck in the snow on the side of Interstate 35.
A tractor-trailer stuck in the snow on the side of Interstate 35 south of Owatonna, Minn., on Monday.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

If you think this was an extra snowy February in Minnesota, you're onto something.

The Twin Cities broke their February snowfall record. So did Rochester. And Duluth. And St. Cloud. 

Statewide, it's the fourth-snowiest February on record. 

"The geographic breadth is really what's fascinating" about the snowfall records, said Kenny Blumenfeld, the state's senior climatologist. 

Record snow amid climate change might seem paradoxical. But overall increases in snowfall and larger individual storms align with what climate models predict will happen as the planet warms. 

• More extreme weather. Climate change means more extreme weather — from fires to floods to hurricanes. Snowstorms too. There's more water vapor in the air due to warmer temperatures causing greater evaporation. Blumenfeld said the increased vapor can add fuel to snowstorms.  

• More precipitation overall. Climate change is making for a wetter Minnesota — three towns crushed their rainfall records last year. And since warming isn't so extreme to end snow in the North, it follows that we'll see more snow, too.

• Warmer temps, more snow. Minnesota winters have warmed 6 degrees since 1970. These warmer temps mean there's less time in winter where it's too cold to snow. In some areas around the Great Lakes, moderate temperature increases have created better conditions for heavy snow, according to a government report. 

Yes, it's been cold. And snowy. But remember: One rough month in no way proves or disproves climate science.

"This is just part of one year," Blumenfeld said of our recent harsh winter. "It's easy to forget that up until mid-January we had been really warm and the cold that we're ending with just barely pushes us over to a cold meteorological winter in Minnesota. We're just on the other side of it."

Hear the entire Climate Cast segment on the audio player above, including a a Climate Story from Katelyn Bocklund of the Great Plains Institute.