- The cold, wintry weather could make global warming seem less of a threat or a joke.
- But cold winters still occur as the planet warms.
- The data shows how winters are getting warmer, but that doesn’t completely make the cold weather go away.
Winter storms are rolling over the United States, snow is piling up, temperatures are dropping, traffic is intensifying, and there is always the threat of thunderstorms and snow.
Like clockwork, e-mails, tweet and the Facebook messages start pouring in. Maybe it’s a joke, maybe it’s a sarcastic criticism, maybe it’s a meme. The words change, but the format is familiar: If global warming is real, why is it so cold?
Scientists probably don’t think this joke is as funny as another familiar quip about climate change: never discuss climate change – it always turns into a heated debate.
But we asked experts to weigh in on the winter weather trope. Here are some thoughts on what winter means in a time of global warming.
Learn more about climate and weather:
Cold winters don’t mean there’s no global warming
Dan Chavas, a professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University in Indiana, says these arguments don’t frustrate him because they’re a chance to engage.
“I think most of the time when people say that they’re joking and don’t seriously believe that the onset of winter disproves climate change,” he said. “For me personally as a scientist, I see this kind of commentary as a potential opportunity to talk about climate, seasons and climate change if they seem interested.”
He begins this conversation by agreeing that climate has always had seasons, but notes that climate change is a gradual warming – in addition to seasons – that makes winters, springs, summers and autumns warmer over time. .
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Higher temperatures don’t mean it’s hotter everywhere all the time
Global temperatures have increased by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. This does not mean that it is hotter everywhere at the same time, but that the whole system is becoming more unstable.
“As you add power to the system, both extremes increase. You can have ice storms in Texas as well as 33 million displaced people in Pakistan due to heat and flooding,” said said Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct, a carbon management company. and a former professor at Columbia University. “These sorts of changes were predicted in 1996, it’s not news that it’s happening.”
That said, winters are indeed getting warmer.
Since 1896, average winter temperatures in the lower 48 states have risen nearly 3 degrees, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Nationally, 57% of US Weather Service stations have recorded a decline in snowfall since the 1930s.
According to Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, winter weather is now on average 14 and a half days shorter and summers seven and a half days longer.
“Global warming won’t stop the seasons, but it is causing long-term trends in winter conditions that are robust and accelerating,” said Jason Smerdon, a climate physicist at Columbia University.
The odds are shifting to hotter extremes
But climate change is never one thing or another. Rather, it’s a change in the probabilities of occurrences of extremes, said Gerald Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
In the United States over the past decade, a daily record high temperature is twice as likely to have occurred at a given location compared to a daily record low, he said.
“For every two daily record highs that are set, there is only one daily record low. That’s climate change happening right before our eyes,” he said. “If the climate were not warming, there would be just as much chance of a daily record temperature being set against a daily record low.”
Over the remainder of this century, the number of extreme heat events will increase, although there are some extreme cold events.
“I said the scientist sitting at my desk in the year 2100 will get a phone call on a cold day in January 2100 when a daily record low temperature is set in Denver,” he said.
This caller will want to know what happened to global warming, because a record cold temperature has just been recorded.
“That scientist in my place will say yes, it was cold that day,” he said. “But think back to the previous summer when almost every day set a record daily maximum temperature.
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