Does cold weather mean climate change is a myth?

By Kate Ingerson, Micaela George, and Armando Valle

No.

Cold weather does not mean that climate change is a myth because weather and climate are not the same thing. Climate describes weather patterns over a span of time, while weather describes day-to-day variations in weather patterns. If it’s cold one day, that doesn’t mean that the overall climate is cold. Trends point to the overall temperature of Earth warming with evidence showing there are more hot days than cold days. The cold front that people often mistake for evidence against climate change is a direct result of the jet stream. In this article, weather and climate in relation to the jet stream coming from the Arctic are discussed. 

Origin and Prevalence 

If someone in power like our president, is spreading ideas that cold weather disproves climate change, it influences others to think the same. Through social media platforms, these ideas can be easily spread. In the Northeast United States, cold weather is normal. For some, like our president, he sees that the weather isn’t warmer and reacts by saying that climate change isn’t real. Others also believe that what we are seeing today isn’t climate change and that these changes don’t prove anything because they aren’t as drastic as they were predicted to be. Other times, people think that the information they are being presented with is a hoax because the explanation isn’t exactly what the title said, or the information that they have been told by others isn’t true and it leads them to believe that the scientific information they are being told is a lie when it isn’t. Their theories based on this false information can easily be disproved with data from climate scientists whose job is to analyze the climate and climate change. 

Issues and Analysis 

Climate vs Weather 

The root of the issue comes from the lack of understanding of the difference between climate and weather. As explained by a National Geographic article titled “Why Cold Weather doesn’t mean Climate Change is Fake,” climate is, on a larger scale, average weather patterns, measured in a specific region over time. Weather describes the daily variations in climate. 

 People will observe a cold spell and take it as climate change not being an issue, when in fact climate has been observed for many years and scientist’s research has more data to back the climate change debate. According to a USA Today article, although cold spells had occurred in January 2018, the time that the article was written, the Arctic and Alaska have been 10-25 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal. The USA today article also says that because climate change affects different places unevenly, it might seem like it is not actually affecting your part of the world, but in fact for every record low temp, there are currently 1.19 record high temps recorded to date. This data shows that be are straying from the “stable climate” 1:1 ratio of hot and cold days, as told by NOAA. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, since record keeping began in 1880, the 10 hottest years have occurred since 1998, the top three being 2016, 2015, and 2014. This trend shows that as time has passed, the years continue to be increasingly hotter since record keeping began, further supporting that the planet continues to get warmer.  

 In an Environmental Defense Fund article, more happens to the planet than just random cold and warm spells. What you don’t see is that an overall warmer planet means more water is evaporated, thus creating more snowfall during the winter. It might seem intuitive that more snowfall means that we don’t have a warming planet, but this evidence disproves that entirely. More snowfall actually means that the planet is responding to the earth warming. The planet being overall warmer makes normal temperature winters feel even colder, further feeding into the “cold weather disproves climate change” argument, according to the EDF

Image credit: https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/12/28/its-cold-outside-but-doesnt-mean-climate-change-isnt-real/987948001/

This picture shows that there are 1.19 record high temperatures for every recorded 1 low temperature, showing that despite what people feel in terms of day-to-day weather, the climate is still overall warming. 

The Jet Stream 

What is the jet stream? The jet stream is a path of wind in the upper troposphere. This path is created by warm air from the south mixing with cold air from the north pole. The jet stream helps to move weather along and keep it from staying in one place for too long.  

What effect does it have on climate change? The effect that the jet stream has on climate change is that it causes weather events like bouts of cold weather or heavy storms to stay in areas longer than normal. The more often this happens, the more regular these abnormal weather patterns become. When the cold air from the north pole is warmer than average, it mixes with the warm air from the south and it creates a weaker jet stream. The weaker jet stream makes a larger path in comparison to the normal jet stream that has a tighter, stronger path. Usually, the cold air from the north mixes with the warmer air from the south which is how the jet stream is created. The two different temperatures in the air contradict each other which is how they create the jet stream. The weaker jet stream is unable to move weather along resulting in longer droughts and floods, and most seen in the Northeast, cold weather.  

Image Credit: https://www.edf.org/card/4-reasons-climate-change-still-happening-despite-cold-weather?card=4

 This new, abnormally wide path, shown in the Environmental Defense Fund’s diagram, pushes colder air from the north pole down to the northeast of the United States, and because the jet stream isn’t moving as quickly, the colder air gets stuck in these regions. This results in colder average weather because if colder air is being pushed into regions that don’t usually have it and it is staying longer, then it starts to become more common. People usually see this and think that it is an example of how climate change doesn’t exist because the weather seems to be getting colder and not warmer. However, average colder weather is a great example of how it does exist because climate change doesn’t imply colder weather, it implies an overall change in the climate in the region whether it is warm or cold.  

Conclusion 

Extremely cold weather does not mean climate change is a myth. In fact, the global climate has been showing trends of warming up for the past fifty years. Human interference has caused the polar regions of the planet to warm exponentially faster than it would naturally. This alters the jet stream because the jet streams normal pattern is created by the mixing of warm and cold air and when the cold air is getting warmer the jet stream becomes weaker. This brings colder air in for longer into regions like Northeast United States. The notion that this colder weather is an indication of climate change slowing down or even stopping is false, climate change is the cause of this colder weather and it will only get more erratic and extreme if nothing is done to mitigate climate change.