Yes, Frigid Temperatures Are Part of Climate Change

Baby, it’s cold outside — and those sub-freezing temperatures don’t disprove the existence of climate change. If anything, this extreme weather adds to the growing body of evidence that something is going very wrong on everyone’s favorite blue marble, Earth.

If this conversation feels like deja vu, it should. Remember 2014′s polar vortex, pictured above? It was another period of severe cold filled with dramatic photos and headlines. And then, as now, it marked a good time to talk about climate change, as well as the importance of distinguishing between climate and weather — something the current president of the United States appears to have some difficulty with.

So here’s the deal: The chilly temperatures across many parts of the U.S. are projected to get even colder, the result of a one-two punch that starts with a “bomb cyclone” before pivoting to a polar vortex. That means there will be an extremely powerful and fast-developing ocean storm that batters the Northeast with snow and ice, causes flooding and results in some pretty dramatic conditions. All that wind movement, in turn, will draw extremely cold air down from the Arctic, blasting the eastern United States with super cold temperatures.

Meteorologists suggest that this combination of storm and cold conditions will break records up and down the Eastern Seaboard. It’s a good time to be warm and indoors — and for your pets to join you there. Extreme weather like this can be fatal for members of the homeless community, as well as older and disabled adults. If you live in an affected area, consider checking in on your neighbors.

Okay, but what does this have to do with climate change, exactly? Well, for starters, the cold weather illustrates why people are shifting towards “climate change” as a descriptive term for what’s happening on Earth, versus “global warming,” which is only an element of a changing climate. When people hear “global warming,” they tend to assume it means everything across the Earth is getting hot uniformly, so rain, extreme cold and other weird weather conditions are proof that nothing’s wrong.

In fact, these things are all tied together.

The freezing temperatures on the East Coast right now are an example of weather: specific local events that take place over a short time period. Climate, on the other hand, is about larger trends.

Thus, for example, residents of San Francisco might say they live in a “Mediterranean climate,” because temperatures stay pretty moderate and consistent, with occasional rain and occasional periods of dryness. If they want to know what conditions will be like on a specific day, though, they check the weather report to see if it’s going to rain. If it snows in San Francisco — which does happen sometimes! — it doesn’t disprove the overall assertion that the city is located in a Mediterranean climate. But if it started snowing heavily over long periods of time year after year, with markedly cooler temperatures than normal, it would suggest that something about the city’s climate — the big picture in terms of what’s happening outside — is changing.

Globally, a number of worrying climate trends are appearing. These include, yes, warmer temperatures, but also changes in climate patterns fueled by these temperatures, affecting ocean circulation and atmospheric currents. In some places, that means heat waves and drought. In others, it means rain and cold.

Any one incident of weather, like this cold snap, doesn’t prove or disprove anything about the climate, but when weather incidents over time are viewed together, they can hint at trends — and climate change may fuel some extreme weather. In fact, over time, we’re having more hot extreme weather than intense cold, highlighting the development of a trend.

Got climate change deniers in your life? There’s literally an app for that, and you might find it a useful tool for firmly and politely rebuking people who try to convince you climate change isn’t real.

Photo credit: David Robert Crews

179 comments

Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Paulo R
Paulo R7 months ago

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natasha p
Past Member 8 months ago

sad

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Paulo R8 months ago

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