Here’s the paradoxical reason global warming actually makes monster snowstorms more common

The Blizzard of 2016 (aka Winter Storm Jonas) will definitely be one for the history books.

The massive storm paralysed the Northeast for much of the weekend, smashing records as the second-biggest snowstorm in New York City, the biggest in Baltimore, and one of the top five snowiest in Washington, DC.

Thousands of flights were cancelled, states of emergency were declared, and at least 28 people died — mostly from traffic accidents and shoveling snow.

Parts of the New Jersey shore suffered severe flooding, breaking records set by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Paradoxically, winters have been getting warmer since the mid-1800s, and annual snowfall in the US has been decreasing.

And yet, massive storms like Jonas have only been getting more common.

The factors that helped brew this storm are complex, but despite the usual conspiracy theories, there’s good evidence that global warming is partly to blame.

Here’s how climate change breeds severe storms:

1. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture

As meteorologist Eric Holthaus reports for Slate, warmer air can hold more water. As air is warmed, the ratio of how much water it holds relative to the amount it can hold — known as the relative humidity — drops. In other words, warm air absorbs moisture, which is why hand dryers are (mostly) effective.

This winter, waters off the US East Coast have been as balmy as 76 degrees Fahrenheit — about 5 to 6 degrees warmer than average, Mashable reports. This, along with a warmer Gulf Stream, adds more moisture to the air. Combine all that extra moisture with cold air, and you get a recipe for lots of snow. This warming can be linked in part to climate change.

“There is peer-reviewed science that now suggests that climate change will lead to more of these intense, blizzard-producing Nor’easters, for precisely the reason we’re seeing this massive storm — unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures,” Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann told Think Progress.

2. Sea level rise raises the risk of flooding

Of course, with global warming comes the melting of polar ice caps and sea level rise. And the Northeast has seen some of the biggest rises. As Slate reports, waters in Lewes, Delaware, have risen by more than a foot over the past century. And higher seas raise the risk of flooding during major storms like Hurricane Sandy or Jonas.

Climate change isn’t the only factor that spawned this weekend’s massive blizzard. But if current trends continue, it’s safe to say we can probably expect more of these snowpocalypse storms down the road.

NOW WATCH: Watch the whole superstorm Jonas hit New York City in just 90 seconds