Polar vortex: why Trump is wrong about the Arctic cold and climate change

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.”

A mass of polar air is descending over the Midwestern United States. Chicago might hit a low of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday. It’s a dangerous, potentially deadly situation. “This is not a case of ‘meh, it’s Iowa during winter and this cold happens,’” the Des Moines office of the National Weather Service warned.

This forecast is not, however, evidence against climate change. Let’s say it again: This forecast is not evidence against climate change.

Yet the president of the United States, who has consistently expressed skepticism over climate change, and whose administration has deliberately made backward progress on the issue, could not help himself (complete with “Waming” typo):

(If this feels familiar, it’s because President Trump often tweets out this sentiment — I could keep linking — when it’s cold out.)

Yes, it can be weirdly cold in parts of the United States while global temperatures are still warmer than average. Remember, weather and climate are two different things. Weather is what we’re experiencing in the moment; climate is the broader trends that make certain weather experiences more or less likely.

Here’s one simple recent map from University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute that proves Trump wrong.

University of Maine Climate Change Institute

It shows daily temperature anomaly — or how different global temperatures were compared to a baseline from 1979 to 2000 — around the whole world. Overall, the world on January 29 was 0.3°C warmer on average, compared to the baseline. That’s true despite the fact parts of North America are 10-plus degrees below average.

And it doesn’t change the fact that 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record, or that there’s a massive heat wave currently overtaking much of Australia, or that Arctic sea ice continues to disappear at an alarming rate. This year could still end up being the hottest year on record, as forecasters anticipate an El Niño cycle picking up.

Here’s the take-home lesson: You shouldn’t look out your window to determine if you believe climate change is real.

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