How Arctic Warming is Causing Colder Winters in North America

January 4, 2018 at 6:05 pm




Warmer-than-average years in the Arctic trigger colder-than-average winters in North America, Europe and Asia

Boston 2015, Credit: Peter Enyeart, via Flickr

If you, like Donald Trump, are wondering “where the hell is global warming?” during the “bomb cyclone” this winter, hang tight. Some friendly climate scientists from NASA, Stanford, Columbia and Harvard are about to break it down really simple-like for you.




Yes, we have been experiencing record low temperatures and record high snowfalls about every other winter lately. No, that does not mean global warming is not real.

It means the ice in the Arctic is melting because the average temperature of the Earth, overall, is on the rise. As the Arctic warms, it’s causing shifts in what’s called the polar vortex—a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research a 2017 study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society explain how it works.

The counter-clockwise flow of air that defines the polar vortex helps keep colder air [circulating] near the Poles,” a Popular Science article summarizes the studies’ findings. “But when sea-ice north of Scandinavia and Russia melts, the now ice-free ocean releases more warmth, which can rise as far as 18 miles into the stratosphere. It weakens that counter-clockwise circulation, allowing more cold air to escape further south.”

The authors of the 2017 study found that 80 percent of the coldest winters across North America, Europe and Asia and over the past 40 years corresponded with the warmest years in the Arctic.

NASA photo surveying Arctic ice melt




“Our latest findings not only confirm the link between a weak polar vortex and severe winter weather, but also calculated how much of the observed cooling in regions like Russia and Scandinavia is linked to the weakening vortex. It turns out to be most,” said study co-author Judah Cohen a climate scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

These intermittent “Arctic” winters are even worse in Asia and Europe than they are in North America. In 2012, many Russians froze to death as the nation registered the coldest winter (-58 F ) in over 70 years.

Even scarier than being trapped inside by the furnace all day, are the effects that these abnormally cold winters are having on our ability to grow food.

Warmer years in the Arctic trigger not only colder winters, but colder springs the following year, according to another recent study, published last August in Nature Geoscience.This results in reduced vegetation growth and lower CO2 uptake capacity in North American ecosystems, according to the study’s authors.And of course, reduced vegetation growth and less capacity for soil to sink carbon, results in desertification and more global warming.Luckily, this man has a plan to break the vicious cycle.