Unusual weather we’re having, ain’t it? Indeed, the phrase takes on a whole new level of meaning when you factor in global warming. If you’re somewhere in North America right now, chances are you’ll be bundling up in extra layers before heading outside—that is, if it’s safe enough to go outside at all. The weather in much of the country right now is downright dangerous, with some areas carrying a warning of “instant frostbite.” Yes, it’s really damn cold out! Fast Company reports via ABC News that the city of Chicago is expected to experience the coldest temperatures in a generation this week. In fact, more than two-thirds of the country is bracing for below-freezing temperatures. So does the fact that it’s so unbearably cold outside mean that global warming is nothing to worry about? If the Earth is warming, shouldn’t winters be… warmer? Not exactly.
In order the see the connection between global warming and weather, first you must understand the the difference. As the National Snow & Ice Data Center so adeptly explains, weather is the state of the atmosphere in short-term variations—weeks, days, minutes. (You dress for the weather.) Climate is weather averaged over a significant period of time—decades, centuries, and millennia. (You plan an economy and a sustainable future around climate.) Scientists look at the climate for more long-term predictions, such as what the temperature will be during winter 50 years from now, or if we can expect the glacial icecaps to melt.
But how does global warming connect to the cold weather we’re having right now? A new article by Forbes explains it this thusly: “Warmer land temperatures, particularly in northern North America and northern Eurasia, allow more heat to be transported into the Arctic stratosphere. A warmer Earth makes sudden stratospheric warming events more likely and more frequent. And those events destabilize the polar vortex, bring cold air down into the mid-latitudes, and cause the extreme weather we’re experiencing right now.”
The reason why a warmer climate—there’s that word again—destabilizes the polar vortex is because waves of air push the vortex around. This makes it unstable, which leads to extreme—you guessed it!—weather. And as global warming worsens, we can only expect more of it.
If you’re wondering what you, as one person, can do to make an impact, consider the planetary health diet, which aims to save Earth before it’s too late. And if you’ve been debating the purchase of a big winter parka, well, you’ve already got the answer.
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