The extreme cold and snow across the eastern half of the United States this past winter makes global warming seem laughable. But, paradoxically, the blasts of polar air were fueled in part by planet-warming gases, according to a new paper.

In particular, the gases helped plow heat into the tropical western Pacific Ocean that, in turn, drove the jet stream further north toward the Arctic before it funneled cold, snowy weather over the Midwest and East Coast, explained Tim Palmer, a climate physicist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

The sea surface temperatures in the western Pacific were “probably the warmest ever recorded this past year,” he told NBC News. “In fact, consistent with that, we had these fantastically strong tropical typhoons in the western Pacific, not least Haiyan which broke all records of wind strength.”


5 thoughts on “Global Warming Linked to Frigid U.S. Winter, Scientist Says

  1. The following excerpt from the article is particularly relevant to the science on this issue:

    Pinning the cold weather on interactions between global warming and natural variability in the tropical western Pacific carries more clout than a controversial hypothesis that the winter chill was driven by rapid warming in the Arctic, Trenberth noted.

    According to that theory, advanced by Jennifer Francis at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe, which in turn has caused the northern polar jet stream to become wavier. Some of those bigger bends in the jet stream bring cold Arctic air further south, which could also explain the winter chill in the eastern United States.

    That theory is controversial, explained Palmer, mostly because the Arctic is considered too small of an area to have a major influence on global weather patterns. In addition, what happens at the surface in the Arctic — which is definitely warming — stays at the surface unlike the western Pacific where heat from tropical storms is released to the upper atmosphere where it influences the jet stream.

    Francis noted in an email to NBC News that precipitation in the tropical western Pacific has been consistently strong for the past seven years, including the winter of 2011-2012 when the eastern United States had an exceptionally warm winter.

    “Because the tropical rainfall patterns in these two years were very similar but the temperature extremes in the two winters in the U.S. were opposite, the tropical pattern cannot be the only reason for the persistent cold spell this winter,” she said.

    “I cannot say that rapid Arctic warming played a role in either of these unusual winters in the U.S.,” she added, “but the very amplified (wavy) jet stream during both years is consistent with the sorts of patterns we expect to occur more frequently as the Arctic continues to warm.”


      • It could be because people are hearing inconsistent messages about global warming. They hear the truth from scientists, but hear the oppposite from climate change deniers. It’s probably difficult for some people to see how urgent the problem is.


        • That’s true for some people, I’m sure. But, many others are acting out of greedy self-interest or ideological intransigence. To them, opposing climate change science is a duty. It’s negative behavior.


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