3 Facts about Extreme Temperature Drops and Climate Change

(Ready Campaign, Department of Homeland Security)

While we often associate melting ice caps and worsening and more frequent wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves with climate change, there is growing evidence to suggest that the recent cold snap seen across much of the United States is also partially fueled by climate change.

From November 11 through 14th, 2019, an extreme dip in temperatures covering the Plains to the East Coast of the U.S. broke more than 400 records. Called “the most severe early November cold snap in more than a century,” the arctic blast led the “feels like” temperature in parts of Texas to drop a full 61 degrees overnight — from 92 degrees Farenheit all the way down to 31, below freezing. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, temperatures dropped to 8 degrees Fahrenheit — the coldest ever seen for that date in November, stretching across records dating back to 1871.

The sudden dip in temperatures led to a number of school closures and the cancellation of over 1000 flights at Chicago’s O’hare airport. The arctic front also led to icy conditions that caused severe traffic accidents in Kansas and Michigan.

Frequently, climate deniers point to these unseasonably cold temperatures as a reason that climate change isn’t happening. But scientists disagree. So what’s the connection to climate change?

As we head toward winter, frigid temperatures are of course not uncommon; however, some scientists think that these kinds of more extreme temperature drops are exacerbated by a changing climate.

Here are 3 ways how a changing climate can contribute to cold snaps:

3. The jet stream is also slower and weaker due to Arctic amplification.

As the planet gets hotter, more of the weather patterns and systems we understand are uprooted. Despite the potential observed correlation between climate change and cold snaps in the shorter term, it’s also important to recognize that weather is not climate and regardless of weather events in a region or country, the globe and its winters are generally expected to continue warming.

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