NEWS AND ISSUES, TRAFFIC/WEATHER

Smerconish Program: Polar vortex is tied to global warming

January 8, 2014

Baby it’s freezing outside! And it’s not just the Northeast that has been experiencing these below-normal temps. The all-too-famous polar vortex has swept the nation, practically leaving us all in a very frigid state.

So what’s going on? To give a little insight into these extreme weather temps, Rutgers University climate scientist Dr. Jennifer Francis stopped by the Michael Smerconish Program. Turns out these weather shifts have quite a lot to do with the overall climate change as a result of global warming.

“It seems counter-intuitive to many that we’re freezing our fannies off and yet it might be related to climate change, global warming in particular,” Smerconish said.

Francis — who has researched and released a number of papers on this particular topic — explained that what we are seeing now is a worldwide phenomenon: Right now Alaska is a lot warmer than Atlanta; California is experiencing one of it’s driest years; the United Kingdom is being pounded by storm after storm; and Scandinavia is having one of it’s warmest winters ever. The culprit? Greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, that stem from the burning of fossil fuel. These harmful gases in turn affect the jet stream, causing it to be more erratic than the norm. It is when smaller differences in temperature are found in the north versus the warmer south that the jet stream becomes weaker, transforming into a “wavy” pattern, taking big swings up northward and then dipping southward.

“This is all related, this is all connected and it’s all because of the jet stream,” Francis said. “The connection then to climate change we think is that… the jet stream is taking these kinds of very wild swings north and south more often now and we believe that’s related to the fact that the arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the country.”

Smerconish broke it down to more simple terms. “Greenhouse gas emissions rise, that air warms the arctic, that air enters the jet stream, the jet stream takes on a more erratic posture or movement than it normally would have,” he said.

With climate changes being a sort of norm over the span of time (we’ve had ice ages, higher sea levels), Francis notes that we can actually pinpoint the cause of shifts in our global weather. In the past it was as a result of the planet’s orbit and the distance we had from the sun, now it seems to all go back to global warming.

“When greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide in particular right now, increases, it is able to trap the heat down by the surface of the earth much more effectively,” Francis said. “This physical process has been understood for a hundred years… We know that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right now is the highest it’s been in at least 800,000 years, probably even longer.”

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