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Extreme cold snaps: why temperatures keep falling to dangerous levels despite global warming


Temperatures continue to drop to dangerous levels despite global warming due to certain weather events.

-53 degrees!

This is how the coldest day was lived the story of Mohe, China 1:11

(CNN) --

Even as the world breaks one heat record after another and moves toward critical warming thresholds, it can still experience brutal waves of deadly cold in the form of bomb cyclonics that cause frigid weather and deep snow, and give reasons to those who deny that the climate crisis is real or significant.

But some scientists say that climate change — and more specifically the rapid warming of the Arctic — may be increasing the likelihood that frigid, polar air will move south.

This weekend, the densely populated Northeast US is a real-time example of how the long-term warming trend is interrupted by record-breaking bitter cold.

  • Emergency measures are adopted in the face of the "epic" entry of cold air in the northeast of the United States

Last month will be remembered for the winter that was not in the region: It was the warmest January on record for almost every city in the Northeast.

In New York it was the first month in which above-average temperatures were recorded every day, and the first time the month ended without measurable snowfall in the city.

But the weather pendulum swings sharply to the other extreme this weekend, when record heat will turn to record cold, with dozens of milestone low temperatures expected.

Wind chill is expected to drop to dangerous levels of -34°C for millions of people on Saturday.

What's going on?


Extreme cold

Although the winters are getting warmer in general and the warm records exceed the cold ones, this month of January has brought a brutal cold wave to some parts of Asia.

Temperatures in the northern Chinese city of Mohe plummeted to minus 53°C, the lowest temperature ever recorded in the country.

Fierce cold and record amounts of snow in Japan have killed at least four people in what the country's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno called the "once in a decade cold snap."

Record low temperatures also fell in several places in South Korea.

"The cold air from the North Pole reached South Korea directly," after traveling through Russia and China, Korea Meteorological Administration spokesman Woo Jin-kyu told CNN.

More than 150 people died in Afghanistan as temperatures dipped to minus 28°C in what has so far been one of the country's harshest winters.

Yakutsk, the world's coldest city, in eastern Siberia, recorded temperatures of -62.7°C, the lowest in more than two decades, according to forecasters.

Extreme winter weather is now moving into the US, with dangerously cold arctic air pushing south, sweeping across many parts of the country and quickly ending what had been a mild January.

  • At least 15 US states under threat of tornadoes, flooding and snowfall from winter storm

How do you explain this cold?

Weather is closely tied to the jet stream, a wavy river of air that moves rapidly high in the atmosphere, about the level at which airplanes fly.

As the jet stream turns south, cold air from the Arctic can plunge with it into the mid-latitudes, the part of Earth where most of the people of North America, Europe and Asia live.

That's what happened in Asia in January, Judah Cohen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of seasonal forecasts for Atmospheric and Environmental Research, told CNN.

As the jet stream retreats to the north, warm air will also move north.

A large swing of high pressures over Europe in January brought record winter temperatures and left some mountains without snow.

Another factor must also be taken into account: the arctic polar vortex.

This is a belt of strong winds that surrounds the frigid Arctic air, which is high in the stratosphere, above the level of the jet stream, around the North Pole.

According to Cohen, the arctic polar vortex is like a top.

In its normal state, it spins very quickly, keeping the cold air close to its center, like an ice skater spinning rapidly on the ground, arms folded across its chest.

But from time to time it is interrupted.

It's as if the skater hit a crack in the ice and went flying, arms flailing.

The arctic polar vortex wobbles, stretches and distorts, carrying cold air and influencing the path of the jet stream.

The devastating cold snap that hit Texas in 2021, knocking out power to much of the state and causing more than 240 deaths, was caused by one of these events, as was the historic cold that hit the United States in late December.

Some scientists claim that small disturbances in the polar vortex may help explain the recent extreme cold in Asia.

  • Surprise in Egypt for a strange snowfall

How does climate change fit in?

The theory centers on the Arctic, which is warming up to four times faster than the rest of the world as a result of heat-trapping pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Some scientists argue that this warming is causing changes in the jet stream and the Arctic polar vortex, causing more frequent extreme winters.

This idea gained traction after the publication of a 2012 study, co-authored by Jennifer Francis, a scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts.

It suggested that the warming of the Arctic was reducing the difference between cold temperatures in the north and warm temperatures in the south, leading to a weaker, undulating jet stream, pushing very cold air south.

Francis' article sparked the debate, and many other scientists have since scrutinized the theory.

One of the most prominent papers, which Cohen co-authored in 2021, claims to have found clear links between Arctic warming and polar vortex disturbances.

Cohen's argument is that especially rapid warming of an area of ​​the Arctic north of western Russia, combined with increased snowfall in Siberia, amplifies the jet stream ripple and pushes the energy upward.

This diverts the polar vortex from its trajectory, causing the outflow of very cold air.

The study links Arctic warming to extreme winter conditions in parts of Asia and North America, such as the prolonged cold snap that hit Texas in 2021.

A sign warns of ice on Interstate 35 on February 18, 2021 in Killeen, Texas.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

"We're not arguing that winters are getting colder in general," Cohen said.

The world is breaking many more records for heat than for cold.

But the idea that climate change will mean fewer swings between extreme temperatures is "an oversimplification," he said.

"As we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and thicken this blanket of greenhouse gases around the Earth, we're going to see more extreme events of all kinds, including these cold snaps," Francis told CNN.

  • New Report Paints a Bleak Picture of America's Future as the Climate Crisis Accelerates

How consolidated is the science?


This is a very complex field of research and other scientists are much more cautious.

James Screen, Professor of Climatology at the University of Exeter, told CNN that there have been several cold winters in the United States and Asia that have coincided with warm winters in the Arctic.

"The challenge we face is to determine the cause of the effect."

Screen co-authored research that used climate models to predict what will happen when Arctic sea ice shrinks further.

According to the study, the loss of sea ice has only a very small effect on the jet stream and there is no real indication that it affects the polar vortex.

Although the research pointed to warmer winters in the Arctic and cold snaps further south, Screen said this can be "explained by normal weather variability."

In other words, even as winters warm up, extreme cold will still occur, because that's how winters work.

An icy street in Yakutsk, in eastern Russia.

Credit: Alewxei Vasilyev/AP

One of the main criticisms of studies linking changes in the Arctic to extreme winter weather is that they are based on historical data.

"If we look more closely at the data from climate models, we don't see these kinds of links or they are very weak," Dim Coumou, professor of climate at the Free University of Amsterdam, told CNN.

What scientists do agree on is the need to continue studying these waves of extreme cold.

"We still haven't done enough research," Daniela Domeisen, Professor of Climate at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, told CNN.

"Eventually we'll find a solution to this and really understand the mechanism, but I think we're not there yet."

-- CNN's Brandon Miller, Heather Chen, Yoonjung Seo, Paula Hancocks, Jake Kwon and Junko Ogura contributed to this report.

cyclonic bomb global warming

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2023-02-04

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