As the frigid polar vortex makes itself at home over a giant swath of the country, it's also serving as fodder for all those equally unwelcome climate change deniers. Despite the fact that 97 percent of scientists agree that man-made climate change is happening, the likes of Donald Trump say many of these record lows are the perfect proof to show that, no, the planet is not warming. Scientific right?
So, does this extreme winter weather prove that our planet is just as cold as it's always been? No, not at all. But it does say this.
Dear Mr. Trump: Winter is always cold. And sometimes that means unimaginably cold.
Despite wind chills nearing -60 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago and temperatures that left some parts of Canada colder than Mars, Arctic sea ice is still melting, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are still climbing and climate change is predicted to pose a far greater threat to the planet than many scientists thought.
Winters have become increasingly warmer over the past century, and despite the recent bout of subzero temps, global warming can make extreme weather events like the polar vortex even worse. In layman's terms, as the planet warms and Arctic sea ice melts, the northern polar region equalizes a bit with temperatures farther south, causing the jet stream that forms a circular band around the northern latitudes to slow down.
This jet stream usually holds the far colder Arctic air in place with winds in excess of 100 mph, but pockets of cold can escape at times when the stream slows down, according to Time. That's exactly what's happened this time around, except the amount of cold that's leaked past the seal is much larger than usual and has pushed farther south (take a look at this interactive graphic from the Guardian for a better visual).
Plain and simple, climate change can't be proven or disproven by a single weather event. Period. Long-term trends have shown that climate change is happening and the IPCC has said it's "extremely likely" humans are the dominant cause.
So, although it's counterintuitive, the current frostbitten state of the country may be further proof that yes, the planet is warming -- and climate change is here with a vengeance.
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