Polar Snap and UK weather

Climate Change droughtWe always hear a lot about weather in the US, and right now, it’s cold.

Prolonged cold, prolonged rain or wind, are all more dramatic than the dangers of drought.

Prolonged dry spells, as recently seen in parts of Europe, can cause the ground to sink by so much that cracks appear in the earth, tearing apart the foundations of houses, bridges, factories and other structures. In the worst case, whole buildings can collapse. Climate change will magnify these risks as factors such as rising average temperatures and more erratic rainfall continue to alter soil conditions.

And extreme cold of course means that people who know nothing about science but like bloviating about weather are claiming that unusually cold weather means climate change isn’t happening.


Of course, Donald Trump wouldn’t dream of going anywhere he could get punched in the face for saying this.

“I’d just finished saying it and boom, out of nowhere someone punched me in the face,” he said. “This polar vortex is really dangerous.”

The meteorology professor Davis Logsdon, of the University of Minnesota, issued a safety warning to residents of the states hammered by the historic low temperatures: “If you are living within the range of the polar vortex and you have something idiotic to say about climate change, do not leave your house.”

More sensibly, actual scientists point out:

But not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely. Right now much of the U.S. is in the grip of a polar vortex, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a whirlwind of extremely cold, extremely dense air that forms near the poles. Usually the fast winds in the vortex—which can top 100 mph (161 k/h)—keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it. In this case, nearly the entire polar vortex has tumbled southward, leading to record-breaking cold….

[Update: though Catherine Brahic and Aviva Hope Rutkin, writing in the New Scientist, say this is not a “polar vortex” but the result of a weakened jet stream.]

Britain in the winter of 2010-2011Another Scot on Facebook reacted to the BBC story North America arctic blast arrives in the east with:

Dear Polar Vortex, Please, please please do not travel this far east.

This is understandable: we all remember the winter of 2010/11, and tabloids have been trying to worry us about the possibility of it happening again ever since.

No one can predict the weather more than 10 days in advance, not by any degree of certainty, except for standard seasonal patterns. But weather can be predicted with reasonable certainty and the right technology up to 24 hours in advance. And you can look at a beautiful visualisation of the global wind-patterns, updated every three hours, viewable from any angle around the world:

Earth winds visualisation

…or check out radar images of rain-clouds no more than half an hour old.

Never before have we been able to know with such certainty the damage being done to ourselves and others around the world by climate change – while still being able to do virtually nothing about it because it suits no one in power to do so.

But you can look at a current picture of the weather patterns of the world, and see both the polar snap tumbling over the east coast of North America, and the entirely different wind pattern flowing down over the British Isles and northern Europe.

Weather of the world

Science is good for things. Unfortunately, it only enables us to know that climate change is killing us: it doesn’t help us stop the profiteers from continuing to wreck the world.

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