A new analysis of temperature data, from as far back as 1950, has linked rising temperatures in the Arctic warming since the 1990s to more common extreme cold and heavier snowfall in other parts of the world. The severe winters were most pronounced in the eastern US, according to the Guardian. The study found that extreme cold during winters has become four times as likely with abnormally high temperatures in the arctic.
The study compared daily temperatures in the Arctic with data from the accumulated winter season severity index, which tracks the severity of winter weather in 12 US cities.
According to Atmospheric and Environmental Research climatologist Judah Cohen:
“There’s a remarkably strong correlation between a warm Arctic and cold winter weather further south. It’s a complex story – global warming is contributing to milder temperatures but is also having unforeseen consequences such as this.”
This past winter, the Arctic saw its highest temperatures yet recorded, with some areas 28 degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term averages. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, melting glaciers and sea ice while destroying habitats for species such as the polar bear.
In the eastern US, two severe winter storms in less than a week brought as much as three inches of snow each hour in some regions. These storms came on the heels of brutal winter storms in Europe, a result of freezing winds from Siberia, that have been called the “beast from the east.”
According to Cohen:
“This winter is a great example of what we can expect from climate change. In the US we had the ‘bomb cyclone’ in January, followed by July-like warm weather in February that I’d never seen before. And now we’ve had a parade of powerful winter storms and the beast from the east. It’s mind boggling.”
Cohen said the connection between a warmer arctic and brutal winters further south fits with theories that global warming has interfered with the polar vortex, a low-pressure system that brings cold Arctic air to points south. Some scientists have suggested that rising temperatures could be slowing the vortex.
Some observers, including US President Donald Trump, have argued that cold winters disprove the concept of global warming as a whole. Scientists have pointed out that this view fails to recognize the nuanced complexity of global climate systems.