How Climate Change Caused Texas's Freeze-over

Recently, massive winter storms have made landfall in the southern United States. The result was the bursting of water pipes, halt of oil production, paralyzation of road networks, and disruption vaccine efforts. It sounds pretty ridiculous that global warming, the gradual heating of our planet, has anything to do with Texas’s unprecedented cold wave. Then why are many scientists pointing to that conclusion?

Sudden Stratospheric Warming: The Driving Force

In the past, climate change has been shown to cause warmer winters and rising temperatures. This warmer climate has actually contributed to the extreme cold fellow Americans are facing. In fact, meteorologists had anticipated this storm well before hand.

This prediction was connected to air temperatures above the Arctic. Earlier this year, Arctic temperatures had risen 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a phenomenon known as Sudden Stratospheric Warming. High temperatures cause a disruption to a spinning mass of air, known as a polar vortex, present over the Arctic during the wintertime. Typically, the Arctic jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the Northern Hemisphere, holds back the frigid polar vortex. A warm Arctic acts as an atmospheric block, redirecting the jet stream and frigid air to make its way down south. This process is a normal part of nature - but can become more frequent. Severe winter weather tends to follow more when the Arctic is warmest.

The Wave Jet Stream Theory

The pairing of intense heat and intense cold is definitely odd. However, it isn’t unheard of. Scientists understand that cold air coming downward leads to warm air going upward - this disrupts the weather’s balance and gives way to the record-breaking temperatures we have witnessed. Climate change had made Sudden Stratospheric Warming considerably more likely. The Arctic has warmed 0.75 degrees Celsius over the past decade, while the entirety of Earth has only warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past 137 years.

The mechanism by which climate change induces extreme weather down south was named by creator Dr. Jennifer Francis as the “wave jet stream theory.” The idea is that higher Arctic temperatures weakening the jet stream that typically keeps cold air deep in the Northern Hemisphere. A weakened jet stream allows freezing air to drift down to lower latitudes.

What We Can Do to Help

We can not continue to ignore climate change. Texas was a state known for its blistering hot temperatures and incessant hurricanes. It was not ready an unforgiving blizzard. We must make sure that such tragedies don’t happen again. This takes not just federal planning, but personal responsibility.

Click here to find ways to fight climate change and help Texans:

Until next time, keep on that STEM journey.

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