Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Polar Vortex" Fails To Repeal Global Warming; Does Inspire Stupidity

If your favorite source of science information is Donald Trump or Rush Limbaugh, you probably have some wicked bad misinformation on this "polar vortex" that's freezing the nation's collective tush off.
No Donald, The cold wave
does not mean climate change
is repealed. Did your hairpiece
freeze or something?  

Contrary to The Donald's assertion, the "polar vortex" cold snap does not mean global warming is a hoax. And doubly contrary to our buddy Rush, the vortex itself is not a hoax.

The media has seized on the term "polar vortex," the term for the giant upper atmospheric whirlwind of frigid air that usually hangs out near the North Pole but has oddly descended into the northern United States this week.

Since Rush Limbaugh has never heard of the polar vortex, his conclusion is it has come from the imagination of the "liberal media."

He says: "Do you know what the polar vortex is? Have you ever heard of it? Wel, they just created it this week....They're in the middle of a hoax, they're perpetrating a hoax, but they're relying on the total dominance of the media to lie to you each and every day about climate change and global warm."

Uh, no Rush. The polar vortex has been very familiar to meteorologists and other scientists for many,  many decades. It usually hangs around the North Pole, hence it's name. It's always there, especially in the winter, whirling away as part of the Earth's normal weather patterns.

Sometimes, odd kinks in the jet stream drive the polar vortex out of its home into places like Asia, Europe, or in this case, southern Canada and the United States. Unusual, yes, but not unheard of, and it's something scientists have long known occasionally happens.

The only difference this time is, in the age of social media, people heard meteorologists refer to the polar vortex in their forecasts, shared it like crazy on places like Twitter, Instagram and Vine,  and it became an instant cliche among national news broadcasts.

It's also true this cold snap is pretty intense.   It's the strongest in a couple decades at least in parts of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic states and Southeast.

However, this polar vortex cold snap is also not unheard of and probably has little or nothing to do with global warming, or global cooling for that matter.

The cold snap is only covering about 2 percent of the earth's surface, so it's not like the whole world is chilled to the bone.

In fact, while we're shivering, there's been strong heat waves going on lately in Chile, Argentina and Austrailia. So the question to Donald Trump is, if a cold snap in the United States signals the end of global warming, does a heat wave in Australia mean it's back?

Though individual weather events, like the cold snap or heat waves ongoing elsewhere in the world might be influenced by global climate change, climatologists caution against reading too much into one weather event.

Like I said, the Attack Of The Polar Vortex  has happened before, and will happen again. Some of the worst cold waves in United States history have been caused by the polar vortex making a southward excursion through Canada into the Lower 48.  Memorable cold snaps in 1982, 1985, 1994, 1996 and 2005 were caused by the polar vortex invading the United States.

Also this cold snap is pretty short lived. New England got a taste of it last week for two or three days before it retreated. Then it attacked the upper Midwest starting Sunday and has spread to the East Coast since.

But it's already starting to warm up in places like North Dakota, which experienced the cold wave first. By the end of the week, most of the nation will have normal or even above normal temperatures.

Other cold waves in history have lasted weeks, not a few days like this one. So don't get too excited about it.

These intense cold waves have actually been getting somewhat less frequent and less intense in recent decades.  On average, United States winters are warmer than they were 50 years ago. But any climate change has not repealed winter. We still get cold waves, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Some climate scientists suggest that since the Arctic is getting warmer faster than the rest of the northern hemisphere, the jet stream is weakening, which makes in meander more, which it turn means you can get more of these weird cold snaps and stronger heat waves.

That might be true, but since this visit by the polar vortex isn't exactly unprecedented, chances are we can chalk this up to the usual back and forth shifts in climate change.  There might be plenty of signs that the world's climate is going off the rails, but this isn't one of them.

So no, Donald and Rush, the science of global warming remains pretty sound, despite your tiresome protestations to the contrary.

It's just that this polar vortex is completely besides the point, and Donald and Rush are too stupid, or too  stubborn, or both, to admit it. Did you both get frostbite to the brain?

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