Study Stokes Debate Over Climate Change and Winter Weather

This new study is the latest in the long debate over midlatitude winter weather and conditions in the Arctic, and how it affects the rest of the world.


A new study published in Nature Communication this month offers a potential explanation for some of the U.S winter episodes over the past decade. This new study is the latest in the long debate over midlatitude winter weather and conditions in the Arctic, and how it affects the rest of the world.  

The study’s authors include Jennifer Francis (Rutgers University) and Karl Pfeiffer and Judah Cohen (Atmospheric and Environmental Research). Both Francis and Cohen are the two leading scientists behind the Artic-midlatitude linkage. Their new study adds to their search to find the truths about climate change.  

Winters in the NWS Eastern Region has risen in temperature by 2 F since 1900, while globally surface temperatures have warmed in all seasons and all latitudes for the last 20 to 30 years. The largest example of this has been across much of the United States, northern Europe, and northern Asia. Siberia’s cold winters have also been prominent recently.  

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997. The National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA) reports that this warming has been unprecedented for the last 1,000 years.  

It is necessary to add that as this trend continues there isn’t a consensus on what it will do to the planet long term, because the changes have always been unpredictable.  

“You can’t tell much about the climate or where it’s headed by focusing on a particularly frigid day, or season, or year, even,” writes Eoin O’Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s all in the long-term trends,” concurs Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. 

That’s why most scientists agree that they need to do a better job of differentiating between weather and climate. Scientific American says that the “The NOAA defines climate as the average of weather over at least a 30-year period.” This means that harsh winter storms can actually be connected to the science of human-induced global warming question, which is an argument that occurs with people who don’t believe in global warming or man-made climate change.   

That’s why this latest finding is so important. Research and greater understanding of the debate on current climate could mean more scientists using that information to plan for the future.  

Cohen and colleagues began their study by examining U.S. winter weather at 12 U.S cities from 1950 to 2016, via the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, or AWSSI. The index uses snowfall, temperature and snow-depth thresholds to calculate how rough a winter was in each location. This is done by comparing the air pressure and temperature in the Arctic up through the stratosphere to about 100,000 feet.  

The Scientists reported that “A strong relationship between a warmer Arctic and increased frequency of severe winter weather is apparent for all stations east of the Rockies, with the strongest association in the eastern third of the US.” Cold temperatures were more relevant then snowfall in the conclusion of the report.  

Though not every scientist is completely convinced and some are asking for more information before the correlation can be made. Michael Mann from Pennsylvania State University told the Los Angeles Times, “The basic findings are sound, but I would take issue with some of the interpretation in the study.”  

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research also doesn’t fully believe this correlation can be made, “The link between the warm Arctic and cold in midlatitudes is an obvious one: the cold air has to go somewhere. The question is where, and what is the cause. This study reaffirms the relationship, but not its cause, although there have been cold outbreaks in winter in the northeast U.S. [in recent years], the winters as a whole have been among the warmest on record.” 

Both Trenberth and Man believe that the warmer ocean temperatures off of the U.S East Coast could be the reason for the harsher winter storms.  

There is still a lot more debate ahead on this topic, but the results are interesting, to say the least. 


What do you think about this study and the correlation made?  





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