The East Coast’s “winter hurricane”/bomb cyclone/huge-ass storm boasts plunging temperatures and a nightmarish whirlpool of snow thanks to whipping winds from a nosediving pressure drop. Many East Coasters peeking out their windows today will just see an angry swirl of white.
Which is, of course, what many climate change deniers will pounce upon as proof that climate change is a myth. Look out your window, at all that cold, blustery snow, and headlines that scream about a bomb cyclone and temperatures that are colder than Mars and people dying from the cold. Their rallying cry: Global warming is not real; in fact, we need it!
That reasoning is fundamentally wrong.
Global warming and climate change are often tossed around like interchangeable terms, but they’re very much not. In a 2015 article explaining the difference on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate vertical, “global warming refers to the Earth’s rising surface temperature.”
Climate change, on the other hand, is the umbrella phrase for consequences of global warming that we’ve become increasingly, worryingly familiar with: rising ocean levels from melting glaciers, flash floods, fire-inducing droughts—and the dual combination of bone-chilling freeze and scorching heat.
What climate change deniers don’t seem to understand is that, even if it happens to be cold outside today, it doesn’t mean that the weather conditions we are experiencing are in any way normal. Global warming is in reference to rising temperatures on the planet, sure, but those temperatures have reverberations across the complicated dance of physics and atmospheric science that is the weather. The polar vortex, for example, is normally a shielding device deployed by the Arctic’s troposphere to keep frigid temperatures away from southern latitudes like ours. But there is evidence that sea ice that normally capped northern seas are melting, weakening the vortex’s normally airtight funnel and allowing bitter cold normally contained in the Arctic to seep out.
This wouldn’t have happened had humans not driven gas-guzzling cars and pumped out carbon-packed fumes into our atmosphere and bumping up the planet’s natural thermostat a couple degrees. Naysayers will say a couple of degrees is not much—can you really tell a difference between 70 degrees and 72 degrees?—but delicate ecosystems that rely on strict flows are spun out of control when food sources die, when their habitat becomes unbearable, when the ice that normally insulates their homes trickles melt—when that melt weakens the stratospheric vortex that unleashes a monster storm in your own backyard. Yes, global warming probably helped make the weather unbearably cold this winter. And pulling out of major worldwide climate change agreements won’t help.