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Published on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Global Warming & Cold Spells: What’s the Connection?


Global Warming & Cold Spells: What’s the Connection?

The term global warming can perhaps be misleading, especially to those who don’t understand the dynamics of global warming. After spending Christmas golfing in sunny Florida, President Trump turned to twitter to write:

“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Although, it is true that New York recently experienced the coldest New Year’s Eve in nearly sixty years, this does not mean global warming is a “Hoax” as Trump tweeted in 2016. This created a backlash on Twitter as users, including NASA, tweeted back explaining the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the conditions in the atmosphere over a short period of time while climate is over a long period. “When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather,” posted the agency online. Nonetheless, scientists claim that these extreme cold weather conditions could be a result of climate change.

How Can Global Warming Influences Cold Snaps?

Cold snaps are extreme cold-weather conditions, similar to the one that recently hit Eastern America and Europe, and have been occurring throughout history. However, what has been puzzling scientists are the cooling winter temperatures during the past quarter century. The cause of cold snaps are cold winds rushing south from the arctic, often influencing large areas in the US, Europe, and Russia. Studies suggest that jet streams in the arctic have been weakening in the past 4 decades due to the rising temperature of the pole which is leading to cold air dipping to the south.

What Are Jet Streams & How Can They Influence Weather in the North Hemisphere?

Jet streams are winds that move in a straight line from west to east around the pole. These winds act like a giant barrier keeping the cold air around the pole. Wind is caused by a gradient in temperature and as the Arctic warms, the gradient in temperature between the pole and the lower latitudes is reduced resulting in weaker winds. Dr Vihma, head of the polar meteorology and climatology group at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, explains how temperature can affect the jet streams. “Ordinarily the jet stream is straight, blowing from west to east. When it becomes weaker, Dr. Vihma said, it can become wavy, “more like a big snake around the Northern Hemisphere.” As these weak jet streams come in contact with high pressure zones, cold air begins to rush south, resulting in cold spells like the one currently affecting Eastern United States.

These cold snaps could lead to more extreme weather conditions by interacting with winds traveling around the globe. The recent cold snap was traveling east when it collided with a wall of warm air from the Atlantic. The large difference in the temperature between the two bodies of air lead to a large drop in atmospheric pressure. The pressure drop is so steep it is often described as explosive by meteorologist. As the air begins to spiral around it can result in a powerful storm called  a “bomb cyclone”.

Bomb Cyclones often bring strong winds and large amounts of heavy snow. As it begins to move North and West, it begins to drags more cold air from the poles adding to the bitter-cold chill in the Eastern part of the US.

How Can Global Warming Affect Future Cold Spells?

The link between cold weather and climate change is still debated by scientists and meteorologists as there are more factors that can affect the climate including natural phenomenons. To link global warming to a single cold spell is therefore difficult but there is no doubt that the warming temperatures in the pole could have an affect on climate in lower latitudes. Clarifying the relation between climate change and extreme cold weather conditions is still an active field of research, however, one thing is important, as educated people we should not ignore the fact that the rest of the globe is warming including the Arctic. This area in particular is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and is currently 3.5 degrees Celsius above average. We should not wait for the extinction of wildlife and disasters to occur to put environmental regulation into motion.

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Author: AThompson

Categories: Blogs, Climate & Weather



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