Deniers of climate change often argue that if the earth is getting hotter because of global warming, why is that we are faced with extreme and colder weathers, with temperatures at the Arctic-like levels? Should not the rising temperature of earth make our winters milder or just make them go away? Well, the answer to this very common confusion lies in the understanding of some very basic concepts of geography: Polar Vortex and the jet stream.
As we already know that earth has two poles: the North pole and the South pole. These poles have air circulating, somewhere above 30 miles from the surface of the earth in the stratosphere. Normally, the speed of these swirling wind lies between 120 and 250 miles per hour. The temperature difference and pressure contrast between the poles and that of the lower latitudes decide the speed of these winds. When these winds function normally or when the polar vortex is stable, they trap in the cold winds emerging from the poles and keep it within the poles, causing freezing temperatures at the Arctic. This also maintains calmer winters and lesser storms in the lower latitudes. However, as the temperature of earth continues to rise higher due to increasing CO2 levels caused by carbon emission generated by anthropogenic activities, poles have warmed considerably and the snow on poles has been melting at a greater rate than ever. The melting snow causes dark pools of water which absorb more heat to only raise more temperature around the glaciers leading to further melting and eventually higher polar temperatures. This irregularity in the difference of polar and lower latitudes temperature has caused the polar vortex to weaken or has made it wavy, which has further disturbed jet stream and other wind patterns. As a result, poles are not able to contain the frigid air, and this cold air is now flowing to lower latitudes, often hitting hard Europe, Eastern US and East Asia. This is how climate change is causing extreme weather events including freezing winters. At the same time, the same climate change has caused record warm temperatures around the world from Australia to the Arctic itself! The changes in weather patterns not only disrupt normal life, at times making it more dangerous like slippery freezing roads, it also leads to loss of livestock and agricultural output leading to huge economic loss.
The science behind weakening polar vortex, winters getting extreme in some parts of the world and simultaneously getting warmer in other, maybe complex to understand. However, for those of us, who still seemed to gainsay the ongoing climate change and its impact on freezing winters, the above-mentioned explanation may offer a basic understanding. Climatologists and environmentalists, all around the world, have been trying to keep the common man aware and alert of the impending dangers which climate change may have for us in future. Snowstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, floods and bushfires incidents and their intensities have risen dramatically in the last ten-twenty years. It’s not hidden from anyone. The need of the hour is to educate ourselves more on the issues and start doing our bit to contain climate change.