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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Polar Vortex Excursions Linked To Global Warming

It's pretty obvious that the polar vortex has been behaving badly over the last few years. So, it isn't any surprise that this misbehavior is linked to Global Warming. Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy) fills in the blanks in Polar Vortex Excursions Linked to Global Warming:
Over the past year or so, I've written a few times on how the "polar vortex"—actually, deep meanders or excursions in the usually stable west-to-east direction of the polar cyclonic air stream—may be tied to global warming, but there hadn't been enough research done yet to be sure.
Well, here we go: A team of Korean and American scientists has made the connection. Warmer waters lead to more melting of Arctic ice, which destabilizes the polar jet stream. My Slate colleague Eric Holthaus has an excellent write-up of it, and I wanted to give him a signal boost here. Go read it.
I mentioned at the time the idea that global warming may be affecting weather patterns, and of course the denial Noise Machine kicked into gear; I got a lot of comments and tweets mocking the idea.
Now, though, we have this new research upholding that conclusion. I'm not surprised. We know that global weather patterns depend on a lot of factors, but the amount of available heat—thinking of it as fuel might help—is a critical one. If you crank up the planet's thermostat you don't just make the climate hotter, you make it unstable.
It's like driving a car. A lot of factors have to balance for a safe drive: how much gas you give the engine, friction with the road, road surface conditions, weather, and so on. Step on the gas and you don't just go faster; all those factors play in, and it gets harder to control the vehicle. A small gust, a slick patch of highway, a pothole—their effects all get amplified. When you hit the gas too hard you're in for a very terrifying out-of-control ride.
And here we are, pedal to the metal.