After yet another February cold snap in the Tri-State Region, a friend from New York posted a question on Facebook asking me “to explain to us the reason for this horribly cold weather in Northeastern and Southern states. Let’s start with the Arctic blast …thanks!”
I lived in North New Jersey all my life. Then last spring, I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I currently live in the Seattle, WA area. I was excited to share my thoughts on this matter, having been a meteorology student and still very much a weather enthusiast. I offered a broader perspective in addressing the question. Here is what I wrote:
Weather is in constant motion like fluid in a running stream. Weather on the ground is steered by the jet stream, ribbons of air currents at 18,000 ft. There are catalysts that affect (and can exacerbate) weather patterns: for example, shifts in ocean currents and sea temperatures; violent volcanic eruptions; rise in global temperatures; and deforestation. The frigid cold which has imposed its will over most of the Eastern U.S. is due to strong upper level lows rotating over the Northeast—the media like to call it the “Polar Vortex”. A strong low aloft is represented by a proportionally cold air mass at the surface. Weather abides by the laws of physics: thermodynamics (i.e. conservation of energy) plays an important part in the distribution and equilibrium of temperature extremes. Where there is a strong upper level low, there is an equally formidable upper level high somewhere else bringing unseasonably warm temperatures over the terrain it occupies. For example, it has been such a mild winter in the state of Washington, some ski resorts have been forced to close operations. And other places in the Pacific Northwest that remain open are experiencing record lows in natural snowfall, which has hurt winter businesses.
What’s becoming empirically obvious to many climatologists and meteorologists is the greater frequency of “weather extremes”—cold snaps, heat waves, droughts, floods. Whether “climate change” is contributing to increased occurrences of weather extremes is debatable. A stronger correlation is being connected with weather extremes and climate change, but can climate scientists say for sure there is a causational relationship between the two? Here is what a majority of climatologists can agree on with an increasing level of certainty: expect to experience more weather extremes, including powerful winter storms, tornado outbreaks, and stronger hurricanes.
A couple of years ago, New Jersey State Climatologist, Dr. David A. Robinson put together a great presentation titled “How is New Jersey’s Climate Changing and What Should We Expect?” Dr. Robinson expects “increasing variability and extremes” in his state. This climatic outlook can be extended to the Northeast and elsewhere. To that point, a recent article mentions a new study linking climate change to extreme weather.