LASER TALK: Recent Weather in No Way Disproves Global Warming

Cold temperatures kicked off the New Year in 2014 for much of North America. But that’s not proof that the science of global warming is questionable, as some pundits readily claim.

This cold snap will not go down as the most significant Arctic outbreak in history (1) and winters are definitely warming.(2) As well, November, the most recent month for which global data is available, was the warmest such month on record, all but guaranteeing that 2013 will go down on record as one of the top 10 warmest years, if not in the top 5.(3) Finally, while North America may be under a cold snap, Northern Europe and Siberia are experiencing well above normal temperatures.(4)

This recent cold weather is explained by the phenomena called “polar vortex”. A polar vortex is a large, frigid air mass located near the Earth’s geographical poles. The vortex is a continually circulating pool of cold air in a counter-clockwise direction. As the air is being circulated in place, it grows colder and denser.(5)

Button up Georgia! The following may explain why southern parts of North America are currently experiencing cold temperatures: A warming Arctic Ocean has changed the polar jet stream in the upper atmosphere dramatically. The polar jet stream now moves more slowly and it is meandering more.(6,7) It has been super-charged with Arctic Ocean heat and it is migrating with more regularity southward and thus bringing weather systems from the Arctic, like polar vortexes, to more southerly locales.(8)

1) “Polar Vortex Gripping U.S. May Be Example of Climate Change,” Inside Climate News, 7 Jan. 2014, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).

2) “Warming Winters Report Summary,” Climate Central, 21 Feb. 2013, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).

3) Freedman, Andrew, “Toasty November Vaults 2013 Into Top 5 Warmest Years,” Climate Central, 17 Dec. 2013, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).

4) Brad Plumer, “Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um…yes!” The Washington Post, 6 Jan. 2014, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).

5) Marlene Leung, “A ‘polar vortex’ is causing our winter woes, but what the heck is it?” CTV News, 6 Jan. 2014, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).

6) Matt Daily, “W.H. science director knocks climate change skeptics,” Politico, 8 Jan. 2014, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).

7) Robin McKie, “Why our turbulent weather is getting even harder to predict,” The Guardian, 7 Apr. 2013, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014). 

8) Jason Samenow, “The polar vortex in no way disproves climate change,” The Washington Post, 6 Jan. 2014, (accessed Mar. 4, 2014).


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