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How is Global Warming Driving Colder Winters?

Updated: May 18, 2023

Newer research is confirming what scientists have been indicating and saying for some time now, and that is that global warming and the warming of the Arctic are adding to our colder temperatures and the cold snaps here in the United States. While it may not always seem like it, we are actually a warmer part of the world when you compare those of us here in North America to the Arctic.

How does it work?

Sometimes it can seem a bit backward, but basically, when the earth warms and the Arctic becomes warmer, that causes our winters to get colder. This is happening because of the melting of the sea ice in the Arctic. When the sea ice melts it helps create a complex event in the form of a meteorological chain. This chain connects the colder air of the Arctic to regions that are warmer than the Arctic (such as our region). There is a rotating pattern of cold air, called a polar vortex, which parks itself in the polar regions. When global temperatures rise, it creates this system of events that can weaken the jet stream it follows. This system can cause the jet stream to become wobbly. When it becomes wobbly because of this weakening it impacts the way the air swirls, causing break-off events that lead to this colder air making its way to the US. The heat from the warming causes the vortex to stretch, which weakens the stream it flows and swirls in. This causes the extremely cold polar air to flow in other directions as opposed to its normal route, which is what leads to it flowing down to us here in the US. Satellites gave us the ability to watch these events, and since they’ve been being tracked since 1979, scientists have noticed an increase in the stretching of the jet streams and the impact it is having on these systems. These events are often referred to as a polar vortex stretch. This means that while day to day temperatures might be warmer as global warming rises, it is also causing these cold snaps and extra cold temperature events.

How does this impact us?

What does this mean for you and me from a practical standpoint? One great example is January 2019. January 2019 was one of the earth’s warmest Januarys ever recorded. The average temperature in the US alone that year was almost three degrees warmer than what we usually see. But the Midwest and Northern Plains saw temperatures from a cold snap that were close to minus 40 degrees below Fahrenheit, with wind chills well over 50 degrees below zero. The result of the warmer temperatures across the globe led, in part, to a giant cold snap. In February of 2020, there was a horrible cold wave that struck Texas, which led to many deaths, which scientists believe was also caused by a polar vortex stretch. This stretch and not being adequately prepared for it led to the issuing of a state of emergency for Texas. Winter will continue for all of us, but it especially impacts those of us in the North and the Midwest. While global warming and global temperatures may make winters less cold and potent as a whole, the briefer extreme cold temperatures and the cold snaps are likely to increase in frequency. It’s also possible that we may begin to see some of these snaps happen more often in our summer months, such as May. This is in addition to our normal and naturally occurring weather events such as El Niño and La Niña which can and do drastically impact weather conditions across the US.

It's important to be prepared.

The key is knowing how to be prepared for what lies ahead. Being prepared for unusual and, at times, unpredictable weather is key, along with being prepared for colder pockets of weather and cold snaps. One of the ways to do that is to protect your home and the investment you’ve made in your home. Our heat trace cable can be a large piece of that puzzle because of how it helps prevent ice dams and save you from costly damage and repairs. We can even teach you how to install them yourself. We all want to enjoy the weather, even the more extreme cold and the cold snaps, whether that’s enjoying it from the inside while drinking something hot or outside on the ski slopes. The best way for all of us to do that is to be prepared.

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