The last couple of days have brought the polar vortex to the United States causing the worst winter weather outbreak in two decades, shattering many records. The weather closed roads, schools, paralyzed air travel and is to blame for at least 16 deaths. Some parts of Minnesota were as cold as 25 degrees below zero.
Oklahoma had it’s share of cold weather as well. The lowest actual air temperature recorded was -12 degrees in Nowata. That temperature was not quite low enough to break the record low temperature. It did however, tied for the 7th lowest temperature ever record on January 6th for the state. The record is still a tie between Arnett and Hooker for -16 degrees back in 1912 and 1971. And many likely remember our record setting weather back in February 2011, with actual temperatures as low as -31.
With this record cold weather many have been asking “where is global warming?” Well it’s right here. The term global warming has confused many to believe it only causes warmer temperatures.
Climate change skeptics have been claiming that this cold weather proves there is no climate change. Fox New’s Stuart Varney said on Jan. 2, “Looks to me like we’re looking at global cooling. Forget this global warming. That’s just my opinion.”
So what exactly is global warming? It’s an increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. This increase is believed by scientists to be caused by an increase of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants in our atmosphere.
Climate scientist however will tell you that climate change doesn’t mean non-stop summer. We still have winter, which is still colder than summer due to the earth having a tilted axis. Another thing we must understand is that climate and weather are different.
“Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching,” the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says. “Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.”
The current cold weather is caused by the polar vortex. Normally the polar vortex is confined to the Arctic but climate change may explain some of the reasons it is coming south.
“As the Arctic region warms faster than most other places, however, the Arctic sea ice melts more rapidly and for longer periods each year, and is unable to replenish itself in the briefer, warmer winter season. This can destabilize the polar vortex and raises the barometric pressure within it.
For two winter seasons (2009/2010 and 2010/2011), the polar vortex was notably unstable. In addition, another measurement of barometric pressure—the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—was in negative mode, weakening part of the barometric pressure “fence” around the polar vortex. This instability allows the cold Artic air to break free and flow southward, where it collides with warmer, moisture-laden air. This collision can produce severe winter weather in some regions and leave milder conditions in other parts of the northern hemisphere.”- UCS
The changes we are seeing in the climate will continue to bring many different kinds of extreme weather, from heat waves to massive snow storms.