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Record-breaking cold may be linked to climate change
January 8, 2014
That record-setting cold that brutalized two-thirds of the United States this week? It could actually be linked to climate change. Scientists are examining the theory that the increase in summer melting of Arctic sea ice exposes greater areas of sea water. That dark water absorbs the sun’s heat, then releases it back to the air in winter, destabilizing the polar vortex, a wind pattern that circles the Arctic.
Weakening of the polar vortex allows masses of frigid air to stream south -- as it did this week, even reaching the Gulf of Mexico.
A recent article in Scientific American (and a blog post for non-subscribers) suggests that this series of events is what caused the icy blast to cascade from Canada across the U.S.
Temperatures fell to double digits below zero in some states, with the wind chill making it feel 20 degrees colder. All 50 states reportedly dipped below 32 degrees at some point on Tuesday -- even Hawaii, where temperatures dropped to 25 at the top of the Mauna Kea volcano.
Climate change doesn't affect weather conditions uniformly. Rather, it disrupts global air and ocean currents and destabilizes established weather norms.
That's why "global warming" can result in apparent anomalies, for instance heavier snowfalls. Increased air and ocean temperatures lead to greater evaporation; the higher levels of humidity in the atmosphere lead to more intense precipitation -- including, where cold temperatures prevail, more snow.
It’s a further example of how human disruption of global systems can cause unpredictable -- and life-threatening -- results.
One more reason why we need to hasten the transition to safe, clean renewable energy sources to replace climate-change-producing fossil fuels.
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