Scientists are divided over whether climate change is fueling extreme cold events
By Umair Irfan
Winter Storm Uri scattered bitter cold, snow, and ice this week across a huge swath of the United States, including places that rarely see such extreme low temperatures.
With average temperatures rising around the world due to greenhouse gas emissions, there is more heat in the global climate system. That’s already having some predictable impacts, like an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves.
There are a couple of competing ideas for how more warming will change the likelihood of extreme cold periods, like the frigid weather currently gripping much of the US. One group of researchers says that warming will make such events less likely, while another says that warming in the Arctic will increase the chances of frigid polar air spilling further south, leading to more periods of extreme cold in the near term.
Clearly, a complicated array of variables had to align to produce the severe cold across the US this week, and such alignments don’t happen very often, making them hard to study, and even harder to predict into the future.