Rapid warming of the Arctic is likely a key driver of extreme winter weather in the United States, according to a new study that addresses a longstanding apparent contradiction in climate science and could explain events like February’s cold snap in Texas, reports AFP.
The paper, published in the journal Science, used observational data and modeling to establish a link between planetary warming linked to human activity and a phenomenon called the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV) disruption. The stratospheric polar vortex is a band of westerly winds encircling the Arctic that under normal conditions keep its cold air contained.
The Arctic is warming at a rate twice the global average, and severe winter weather is increasing in mid-latitude regions, but the question of whether the two are linked has remained a matter of scientific debate.
“In the past, these cold extremes over the US and Russia have been used to justify not reducing emissions—and there’s no longer any excuse, we need to start reducing emissions, right away,” study co-author Chaim Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem added in an accompanying video.
According to the authors, one of the strengths of the study was that in addition to reviewing historical data, it used a high-powered climate model to test whether their hypothesis was true when inputting new parameters, such as even more heat and snow cover in Siberia.
The results could be used to extend the warning lead time of cold extremes in Asia, Canada, and the United States, the authors say, “maybe even a few weeks in advance,” said Barlow.
“People are starting to appreciate the reality that even if the climate change isn’t in your own backyard, it can still really affect you,” he added.