Blame This Winter's Cold on the Heat

cars stuck in snow in traffic

Image courtesy of NBC News

Blame This Winter's Cold on...The Heat
| published September 16, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


You’ve probably heard those rumors: we are all in for an even colder winter this year.

Hard to believe, considering that the last two winters across most of North America, northern Europe, and a large swath of northern Eurasia set all-time records for cold and snow. Last year, some 35 U.S. states experienced colder-than-average winters, and 15 of those states set records which date back to the beginning of record-keeping.

But for months we have been hearing that this winter could be another record-breaker—with heavy snows, more ice and sleet, and bone-chilling low temperatures. A few Canadian provinces and several northern U.S. states have already had early, heavy snows.

Those discussions of another cold winter have been met with skepticism. That school of thought says that loose talk of another winter of deep snow and subzero cold is little more than a hoax. But several recently-released studies, including one published earlier this month by, suggests that global warming is—paradoxically—going to make the lives of almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere miserable for years to come.

Why? Because melting ice caps and retreating glacial activity is triggering unforeseen patterns in the jet stream. The disruption of cyclical patterns is causing colder-than-average winters across the Barents Sea, across northern Europe, Scandinavia, northern Russia, all along the Korean Peninsula, across both sides of the Bering Sea, and across much of North America.

The study admits that the linkage between melting ice caps and the severe winters is subject to a lot of scientific debate. The last few winters have confounded everyone—both global warming advocates, and those who think that human activity is not largely responsible for climate change. But the study seems to indicate that the breakdown of jet stream patterns—a generally reliable phenomenon which can greatly affect weather across the Northern Hemisphere—will lead to demonstrably wild and unpredictable outcomes.

Especially important is what the report calls “weakening the stratospheric polar vortex in mid-winter (January-February)…[which] preferentially induces a negative phase of Arctic Oscillation at the surface, resulting in low temperatures in the mid-latitudes.” Translation: we haven’t seen the last of Polar Vortex; there will be more heavy snow, more ice, more freezing rain, and more days and nights with sub-zero temperatures.

Last winter’s severity came in waves—week after week of more cold and more snow—as the arctic air patterns shifted and pushed giant blasts of frigid air down across Canada and into the United States, in some cases as far south as Texas and Florida. Similar patterns have been occurring for three years across Europe and northern Eurasia. And Koreans have experienced two consecutive winters of record-breaking cold. Oddly, Alaska has its warmest winter in 50 years last winter—it too a victim of the shifting Polar air currents.

One of the report’s authors, Seong-Joon Kim, said that the same patterns which were so dramatic across North America will be seen again soon in Europe and parts of Asia.

So, hoax or scientific certainty, controversy abounds in America about what to expect for the winter of 2015. The widely respected Farmers’ Almanac has already predicted that 2015 will be every bit as cold and frozen as last year. Mixed with predictions of heavier-than-average precipitation in a dozen states in the western U.S., this could mean a bitter and unpleasant few months. And though the Farmers’ Almanac is hardly scientific (it uses an eclectic mix of methodologies, including sunspot observations, planetary alignments, comet and asteroid activities, animal behavior, and several “secret” criteria), its publishers claim its predictions have been accurate about 80% of the time since the late 1800s.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. We advise stocking up on batteries (for your MP3 player, of course), firewood, thick socks (and that includes you folks in Florida), hand-warmers and mittens, packages of hot cocoa, winter scarves, and books written by Carl Sagan and Al Gore. The books can be read aloud when you and your family are trapped indoors, or they can be used as emergency kindling--depending on your mood or mindset at the time.

Related Thursday Review articles:

An Inconvenient Chill, Again; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 4, 2014.