As the Arctic Warms, America Grows Colder This Winter

A major cold front is descending across the United States this week that is going to send temperatures plunging virtually overnight across much of the Northeast, South and West. Meanwhile,  thanks to climate change, temperatures in the Arctic are hitting record highs.

Wait, what? To repeat: A major cold wave sweeping across the United States – as well as much of Europe and Asia – is occurring at the same time the water is warming so much above the Arctic Circle that polar bears are fleeing inland.

The ‘Seesaw Effect’ of Arctic Warming

How is this happening?  “Think of it like a seesaw,” Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland, told Bloomberg News. “If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.”

The warming air in the Arctic Circle is locking in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south. That sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex – the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. Or, as Bloomberg put it: “warm Arctic, cold continents.”

The Importance of Sea Ice

How cold? In Chicago, the temperature is expected to move this week from 43 degrees Fahrenheit to a high of just 18 during the day.

Scientists say climate change is heating the planet to record levels, which is melting the ice in the Arctic. The year the ice cap’s winter growth has been the slowest in recorded history. Open water stores heat that lingers on into the fall and early winter even after the sun has set for the year. Sea ice, on the other hand, keeps the air above it cold. Less sea ice, less cold air.

What’s even more concerning is that as the ice melts, the warming cycle speeds up. Snow and ice reflect a lot of sunlight back into space. But the melting snow exposes darker ground and water that absorb more of the sun’s heat.

“The Arctic as a whole is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet,” says Jeremy Mathis, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the Arctic Report Card released in December.

Global Warming: 400,000 Hiroshima Atomic Bombs Every Day

Overall, the Earth has warmed by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, when the first records of global temperatures are deemed reliable. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.

The heat accumulating on Earth because of the release of carbon dioxide and other human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day, scientist say. 

Nearly all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases, scientists now agree. If emissions continue unchecked, and the feedback loop seen in the Arctic continues to accelerate, the warming on earth could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit. That would undermine Earth’s capacity to support a large human population.


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