By Anders Lorenzen
Many climate deniers will undoubtedly use the Arctic blast engulfing the US state of Texas earlier this month as a reason to disprove climate change.
In Texas, some very unusual Arctic type weather left millions of people without power or drinking water, and this despite the state being the biggest energy producer in the US. The historic winter has so far killed at least 22 people. The weather caused the closure of COVID-19 inoculation centres and hindered vaccine supplies.
In a statement, the White House said that President Joe Biden has assured the governors of states hit hard by storms, that the federal government stands ready to offer any emergency resources required.
Global climate change
The reason more scientists are starting to use the term `global climate change` is that as the climate warms it might warm unevenly which will cause both extreme cold temperatures as well as extreme warm temperatures. Scientists believe some extreme weather temperatures can be linked to the fact that the jet stream has changed position – brought on by climate change.
The role the Arctic plays
With this recent cold snap, a lot of the clues can be found in the Arctic.
An increasing number of scientists say there is evidence that the rapid heating of the Arctic can help push frigid air from the north pole much further south, possibly to the US – Mexico border.
Judah Cohan, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, told the Guardian newspaper: “The current conditions in Texas are historical, certainly generational. But this can’t be hand-waved away as if it’s entirely natural. This is happening not in spite of climate change, it’s in part due to climate change.”
A paper co-authored by Cohen last year found a strong increase in US winter storms in the north-east in the decade leading up to 2018. Cohen as well as other scientists argue that this points to the fact that heating in the Arctic, which is occurring at more than twice the global average, is having an impact on the long-established climatic systems.
A spinning top
Cold air is normally concentrated around the north pole in the polar vortex, an area of low pressure that circulates in a tight formation in the stratosphere during winter. Scientists compare this rotation to a spinning top, one that can meander if it is interfered with. Researchers believe this interference is changing the jet stream which is a band of strong winds that circulates around the globe at lower elevations than the polar vortex. Some argue that the warming of the Arctic is causing the jet stream to shift
Cohen explains: “The energy escaping from the jet stream bangs into the polar vortex so it starts to wobble and move all over the place… “Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air.”
Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod, came to similar conclusions: “It’s been a major breakdown. It really is the cause of all of these crazy weather events in the Northern Hemisphere.”
This phenomenon has been witnessed in Europe as well as in the US, and to a dramatic degree over the last month. Several places in Europe, such as the UK and the Netherlands, have experienced freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall which is unusual in those countries.
However, research on the topic of linking Arctic heating with colder winters in the northern hemisphere is still a very young field of research and there is not yet scientific consensus.