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Climate, it ain't what is used to be

In the coming days, a remarkably persistent weather pattern will
begin to develop across North America and adjacent ocean regions. Characterized
by strong high pressure near the West Coast and low pressure over the Eastern
Seaboard, this “quasi-stationary,” high-amplitude atmospheric wave pattern will
essentially become locked in place for at least the next 2 weeks. Patterns like
this have a tendency to become self-reinforcing, lasting for much longer than
more typical transient weather patterns and leading to prolonged stretches of
unusual weather. This particular event will be no exception: California (and
much of the West Coast) will almost certainly experience an extended, multi-week
warm and dry spell, while much of the East Coast shivers through repeated blasts
of cold, Arctic air.

This was a year of devastating weather, including historic
hurricanes and wildfires here in the United States. Did climate change play a
role? Increasingly, scientists are able to answer that question — and
increasingly, the answer is yes.

It’s freaking cold out there, America. But you don’t need a Vox
explainer to know that. You knew it the second you woke up. Knew it in that
dreadful moment just before peeling off the blankets, when you thought, This is
the warmest and most comfortable I’ll feel all day.

The East Coast is in the teens and 20s. Temperatures in the Midwest are hovering
near zero Fahrenheit. The brave, brave residents of International Falls,
Minnesota, had to face negative 36 degrees (!!) On Wednesday morning. At that
temperature, some preparations of automotive antifreeze will freeze.
Record-breaking lake effect snows are blanketing Great Lake shores.

New research shows that some northern regions have been getting
hit with these extreme cold spells more frequently over the past four decades,
even as the planet as a whole has warmed. While it may seem counterintuitive,
the scientists believe these bitter cold snaps are connected to the warming of
the Arctic and the effects that that warming is having on the winds of the
stratospheric polar vortex, high above the Earth's surface.

Here's what scientists involved in the research think is happening: The evidence
is clear that the Arctic has been warming faster than the rest of the planet.
That warming is reducing the amount of Arctic sea ice, allowing more heat to
escape from the ocean. The scientists think that the ocean energy that is being
released is causing a weakening of the polar vortex winds over the Arctic, which
normally keep cold air centered over the polar region. That weakening is then
allowing cold polar air to slip southward more often.
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