Wednesday’s bone-chilling temperatures, while not at a record-setting level in Manhattan according to K-State’s weather office, were certainly unusually low for our part of the country. And much of the Midwest faced even more dramatic cold. Parts of Minnesota recorded wind chills in the range of minus 60 degrees.
We understand why in the face of such weather, “global warming” seems like a joke.
Still, we hope President Donald Trump was kidding when he tweeted about climate change on Monday: “What the hell is going on with Global Warming?” he wrote. “Please come back fast, we need you!”
Now we don’t want to be too tough on the president, who may have written that tweet facetiously, and must at least partly have been baiting left-wingers. We’re sure lots of people, digging out their wool socks or waiting for their cars to warm up this week, made similar cracks.
But just to make sure no one is confused about where the joke ends, let’s get one thing straight: Short-term changes in the atmosphere (weather) are not the same as shifts the average weather over long periods of time (climate).
And in fact, scientists say the documented, human-caused disruption in climate comes with a pattern of more frequent and more intense weather events.
That means if anything, this recent cold snap is proof of — not evidence against — global warming.
Some specifics of this particular weather system, if you’re interested: The polar vortex is the name for the winds in the Arctic, which typically keep the coldest air way up there. Sometimes it shifts south. But now, unusually, the polar vortex has broken into two systems, one of which made its way down to North America.
A number of scientists studying the phenomenon believe this is related to climate change. Specifically, they’re looking at the jet stream, which has slowed and changed course as the planet warms. The jet stream interacts with the polar vortex, and is partly responsible for bringing the cold farther south.
The polar vortex is also affected by diminishing ice in the Arctic. As sea ice melts, the dark ocean below absorbs the sun’s heat. That heat is released into the atmosphere, creating winds that affect the polar vortex.
These patterns are complex, and even researchers don’t yet have all the answers. But even those who don’t want to believe in climate change ought to be paying serious attention to it, because the ramifications are huge.
The Manhattan Mercury,