How Can There Be Harsher Winters in a Warming World?

How Can There Be Harsher Winters in a Warming World?

As the United States continues to get hit with record-breaking cold snaps, it may seem backwards to think about how the earth is supposedly warming at an alarming rate. What can explain a colder than average winter occurring in a world that scientists say is getting hotter?

It is important first to understand the meanings of two common terms used in the media.  Climate Change is often discussed referring to record high temperatures, droughts, and wildfires, but there is a lot more to climate change than just higher temperatures.  More often than not, in newspapers and television reporting, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” are used interchangeably.  When in fact the two things are separate events.  Global warming only describes the rise in global average temperature while climate change is how the climate of different areas around the planet changes over time.  Climate change can be caused by global average temperature increase (i.e. global warming), which can then cause changes in the water cycle and ice cover on land and in polar oceans.

As mentioned earlier, climate change involves more than just increased temperatures.  Elements of climate change can also be global weather patterns that often affect precipitation averages and extremes. Remember that climate and weather are two different things.  Climate is defined as the average weather pattern in a region over a long period of time. Weather is comprised of the specific day-to-day fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, air pressure, wind, etc. that a climate region experiences.  The fact that climate and weather are not the same things helps explain the meaning behind having harsher winters in a warming world.  Locally, one area is experiencing cold, severe weather but globally, surface temperatures have been steadily rising.

According to National Geographic, scientists believe that Earth will experience more extreme, disastrous weather as the effects of climate change play out.  Furthermore, a 2017 study published in the journal Nature Geoscienceconcluded that North America can expect to see harsher winters due to a link between warmer Arctic temperatures and colder North American winters.  What specifically happens is that the warmer temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet streams to take wild swings.  When it swings farther south, this causes cold air to reach farther south.

This extreme weather won’t only consist of blizzards and cold snaps, scientists are also expecting an increase in longer lasting floods as well as droughts.  This is explained by the effected jet streams taking wild swings because of the warming Arctic temperatures.  Scientists predict the jet streams will start to slow down and this can prevent normal weather patterns from properly circulating.

However, despite the potential increase in extreme weather incidences, Brett Anderson, a Senior Meteorologist for AccuWeather, stated that average winter temperatures are still expected to continue to trend warmer over the next several decades in the majority of the Northern Hemisphere.

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