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It’s rather cold in North America, and believe it or not it is due to global warming

Climate change deniers have been in a lather telling us that the severe cold snaps in North America provide undisputed evidence that global warming is, in the words of some, a load of crap. The North American weather is certainly the major talking point but apart from the deniers telling us that it is simply because global warming doesn’t exist, nobody has bothered to explain what has actually caused this unprecedented weather pattern.

Somebody apparently has, or did, a couple of days ago, but it has conveniently escaped the major news networks. The explanation by Eric Holthaus in the online Quartz magazine under the article titled ‘How global warming can make cold snaps even worse‘ (which will make a lot of sense to anyone who has seen the 2004 movie ‘The day after tomorrow‘) is worth repeating. Below is a condensed excerpt of the article:

Global warming is probably contributing to the record cold, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. The key factor is a feedback mechanism of climate change known as Arctic amplification. Here’s how to explain the nuts and bolts of it to your under-informed family and friends:

Snow and ice are disappearing from the Arctic region at unprecedented rates, leaving behind relatively warmer open water, which is much less reflective to incoming sunlight than ice. That, among other factors, is causing the northern polar region of our planet to warm at a faster rate than the rest of the northern hemisphere. (And, just to state the obvious, global warming describes a global trend toward warmer temperatures, which doesn’t preclude occasional cold-weather extremes.)

Since the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes helps drive the jet stream (which, in turn, drives most US weather patterns), if that temperature difference decreases, it stands to reason that the jet stream’s winds will slow down. Why does this matter?

Well, atmospheric theory predicts that a slower jet stream will produce wavier and more sluggish weather patterns, in turn leading to more frequent extreme weather. And, turns out, that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing in recent years. Superstorm Sandy’s uncharacteristic left hook into the New Jersey coast in 2012 was one such example of an extremely anomalous jet stream blocking pattern.

When these exceptionally wavy jet stream patterns occur mid-winter, it’s a recipe for cold air to get sucked southwards. This week, that’s happening in spectacular fashion.

Climate scientist Jennifer A. Francis of Rutgers University explains this process in a short video (h/t Climate Progress):



This effect has already been measured with mid-level atmospheric winds in the northern hemisphere decreasing by around 10% since 1990. Not-so-coincidentally, that’s about the same time when Arctic sea ice extent really started to crash.

That all makes sense to me (but I’ve also seen the movie).

And – of all places – give us a bit of a hint that the above is more than likely plausible after all. In telling us the other day that Canada is colder than Mars they also tell us, without the spectacular headlines, that:

The North Pole was also 10 degrees warmer than Winnipeg.

Interesting, isn’t it?


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  1. Anomander

    Here is a great article from The Conversation back in 2012 using simple dice and basic maths to explain variability of Climate Change.

    Surely, even deniers could understand simple concepts like this, although they will no doubt ignore the link or read only the first few words of the article before demanding concrete evidence of all the dice rolls.

    They will them accuse scientists and the IPCC of rigging the die faces or weighting the dice, finally publishing a series of spurious articles in the Murdoch press about how dice rolling generates a cooling effect and that whenever a player passes GO, they should forfeit their $200, handing it instead to the next major polluter as an incentive to stop them from cheating.

  2. Crash Skeptic the Censored

    Michael, people just find it amusing how a hot day proves global warming, but a cold day is “just weather, so shut up”.

    The pro-AGW crowd finds weather important or insignificant depending on whether (excuse the pun) it is convenient.

  3. Anomander

    @Crash – weather is important, not because of a few hot or cold days but because of the long-term trend.

    If anyone seeks to make light of the weather it is the denialists, who each time a cold day occurs, they flippantly claim; “So much for global warming!”.

    The fact we keep breaking long-standing temperature records year upon year is the clearest indicator possible that the world is warming-up and that the climate is changing accordingly.

    Please don’t let massive weight of evidence get in the way of your personal bias.

  4. Haderak

    FYI on “The Day After Tomorrow” – it was inspired by a book called “The Coming Global Superstorm”:

    It contains some conjecture leavened with science that outlines a scenario in which global warming leads to an ice age, and points out some pieces of evidence that indicate that it has happened before. The movie played with the timescales though, condensing events that would have taken months or years into weeks and days.

  5. quiescence


  6. Michael Taylor

    Haderak, Whitley Strieber has written some very interesting books. By memory something like nine of his books have been turned into movies. This one is his most chilling, excuse the pun.

  7. Moi

    Is that 10 degrees Celsius? If so, it’s still very cold in the Arctic. Warmer, yes, but not warm. I believe the climate is changing faster than it ought, but is there a precedent for this massive Arctic Vortex? I’ve also heard that higher global temperatures could trigger an ice age.

  8. mawintels

    Sub Zero temperatures in New Deli it’s not snow, but on the way (day after tomorrow movie) the El’passo frozen fountain is priceless along with hell freezing over and Hawaii sub zero.

  9. Spinny Rin

    That’s all well and good my issue with climate change “science” is the small section of earth times they have to compare what is ‘nomal’ and what is ‘erratic’. We had an ice age without any industrialisation and the number of historic accounts of lands that are now used being icelands only 2000 years ago and this is not explained by cc scientists. What gets my goat worse, is that it’s blatantly obvious we are destroying the earth, particularly with mining and coal seam gas, yet alternative options are not sought and their are many.

  10. Möbius Ecko

    The first part of your post is not true Spinny Rin. Too much to explain and source so I suggest you read up on how climate science utilises empirical evidence and paleoclimatology.

    The thing to look for is the rate of change for past climatic events outside of sudden disasters as compared to the current rate of climate change since industrialisation.

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