4 reasons climate change is here, even though it's cold
Climate change can increase snowfall
It may seem counterintuitive, but more snowfall during winter storms is an expected outcome of climate change. That’s because a warmer planet is evaporating more water into the atmosphere. That added moisture means more precipitation in the form of heavy snowfall or downpours.1
During warmer months, this can cause record-breaking floods. But during the winter – when our part of the world is tipped away from the sun – temperatures drop, and instead of downpours we can get massive winter storms.
Photo credit: Anthony Quintano/Flickr
A normal winter feels colder to us now
Winters in the U.S. have warmed a lot since the 1970s – making what used to be a typical winter feel even more frigid nowadays. This wintertime warming trend is most prominent in some of the coldest areas of the country, such as the Northeast and Upper Midwest.2
When comparing temperature trends between 1912 and 2012 versus 1970 and 2012, researchers found that the pace of winter warming has picked up in recent decades. Between 1970 and 2012, winter in the mainland U.S. warmed more than four-and-a-half times faster per decade than over the past 100 years.
Average temperatures keep going up
A cold front may bring a welcome change to sweltering summers, but overall, our planet is experiencing a dramatic warming trend.
According to NOAA and NASA, 2016 shattered records as the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since record-keeping began in 1880.3 This is a pattern that stretches back decades.
Warmer Arctic may worsen cold snaps
Research teams are starting to connect the dots between a warming Arctic and cold winters in the eastern United States.3
While it is still too early for scientists to reach a consensus about this plausible link, it is thought that melting sea ice in the Arctic can weaken the jet stream, allowing for frigid polar air to penetrate farther south than normal.
What can be done?
The science is clear: Human activity is causing our climate to change, including winter weather.
Here’s how to help
- National Climate Assessment, Heavy downpours increasing
- Climate Central, Warming Winters, U.S. Temperature Trends
- NOAA, Global summary information
- Geophysical Research Letters, "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes"
*Graph data, for annual average temps: NOAA, Climate at a glance, Time series