Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Here's a quiz for you! True or False: Climate change is causing sudden cold snaps. Find the answer at the end of this post!
Most people can fall into one of two categories: those who like the cold and those who don’t. You may argue the same about warmer weather, but it would be the same; some may like it while others don’t like it as much. Whichever category you may fall in, the worst thing that could happen is when a glacial cold snap or excruciating heatwave suddenly descends when you are unprepared. Perhaps it interferes with your original plans and disrupts your daily routine. Maybe it even causes a state of emergency in your region, similar to what happened in Texas a month ago.
What is the far-fetched reasoning behind this? How does it reach 0 degrees in a region with an average low of 44 degrees? Scientists have argued that greenhouse gases are causing global warming and climate change, where is the warming? The data shows just the opposite, where everything is much colder!
There is no denying that Texas experienced record low temperatures, some even reaching arctic-levels. However, this is only part of the story. Simultaneously, record high-temperatures were happening in just as unsuspecting regions. Alaskan sled races were canceled because of melting ice. A small number of people might use the faulty logic that, “it’s cold where I am; therefore global warming doesn’t exist.” However, before you reach this conclusion, we must explain seemingly inexplicable events.
The weather in Texas begs the question, is global warming really happening? Absolutely. Global warming refers to an upward trend in the average global climate, which is entirely different from weather. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the world has just finished the hottest decade on record. This does not mean that every day in the past decade was warmer than usual, especially given the cold snaps in Pittsburgh in January of 2019. Extreme cold snaps like these have become more severe in recent years due to a combination of global warming and a phenomenon you’ve likely heard of: the polar vortex.
The polar vortex is a region of low pressure and frigidly cold air surrounding both of Earth’s poles. This vortex of air is contained by the jet stream, which is a current of fast-moving air formed along the boundary between hot and cold air. The greater the difference in temperature between the hot and cold air, the stronger the jet stream is. During the winter, the jet stream becomes more pronounced when the polar air and mid-latitude air masses have the most significant temperature difference.
The jet stream acts as a barrier between the polar vortex and the lower-latitude region that contains the United States. A stronger jet stream is similar to a cement wall holding back the polar vortex. On the other hand, a weaker jet stream is like a wire fence attempting to hold back a lion, which is a futile feat. This is precisely what happened in Texas. Global warming caused an increase in average temperature, weakening the jet stream and allowing the cold air from the polar vortex to creep south. The great plains are the perfect tunnel for the cold air to follow, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains on the west and the Appalachian Mountains on the east. This tunnel leads directly to Texas. The combined phenomenon caused freezing cold temperatures.
Now you understand the science behind sudden cold snaps that are partially caused by global warming! Help spread awareness about misconceptions around global warming. Addressing this will help reduce the likelihood of dangerous cold snaps. As always, science never lies.
Hopefully you now understand the science behind the polar vortex and have figured out the answer to the quiz: TRUE!