EDITORIAL: Cold days, warm days: Climate change continues

The York Dispatch

It was beyond cold in York last week.

Low temperatures crept below zero, with wind chills even lower than that. Firefighters arrived at a fire in Wrightsville on Thursday, Jan. 31, and discovered a hydrant with a frozen cap. Schools canceled classes, and warming stations opened.

And when it was cold here, it was even colder in other places. Chicago broke its record cold temperature. Places in North Dakota had days when it didn't get above zero. The U.S. Postal Service stopped deliveries to 100 ZIP codes.

The cold weather, of course, brought out the climate change deniers, especially the denier-in-chief.

On Jan. 29, President Donald Trump tweeted: "In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can't last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!"

Beyond the alternative facts (60 below isn't the lowest wind chill ever recorded; actual temperatures of 60 below and 70 below have been recorded throughout the upper Midwest, according to weather records), there's a willful ignorance behind this pronouncement that is maddening for anyone who actually understands weather and climate.

Last week, it was very cold, even for January. This week, it's warm for February.

Neither weather extreme really matters when we're talking about climate change. Overall, the Earth is getting warmer. And people are the reason why.

January's cold blast came courtesy of the polar vortex, a term meteorologists have been using for a long time that only came into common usage in the past five years.

The polar vortex is the dome of super-cold air that is usually found about 20 miles over the North Pole. What's been happening recently is a piece of the polar vortex breaks away and wanders south. 

Last month, there was a “sudden stratospheric warming” when warm southern air suddenly caused the temperatures in the atmosphere to rise 125 degrees. That split the polar vortex, sending the Arctic air blast to the Lower 48.

More:Science Says: Get used to polar vortex outbreaks

Was the "sudden stratospheric warming" caused by climate change? Scientists are split on that one. 

“This symptom of global warming is counterintuitive for those in the cross-hairs of these extreme cold spells,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “But these events provide an excellent opportunity to help the public understand some of the ‘interesting’ ways that climate change will unfold.”

Helping the public understand climate change has been difficult enough over the years. Now that the president throws out his opinions regardless of the considered research and thoughts of 97 percent of climate scientists, it's even harder. So let's say it again.

Last week, it was cold. This week, it's warm. Either way, it doesn't matter. Climate change is real, and humans are causing it. 

Unless we all stop listening to and cheering on the willfully ignorant, the climate and the weather will continue to get worse.