The Paradox of Global Warming and Colder Winters

Polar Vortex
Photo credit: NOAA
Reading Time: 2 minutesWhoWhatWhy Climate Change Coverage

If you are shivering in a freezing, snow-blanketed part of the world, global warming might seem like a fine thing to have. But, believe it or not, you can thank global warming for this cold weather.

The summer of 2019 was the hottest on record in the northern hemisphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And there were other extremes this summer — severe drought in India, rains and record floods in the American Midwest, devastating fires in the American West and in Australia. And now the cold.

It seems as if we’re trading weather with the Arctic. We send up our hot air — and the Arctic sends down its cold air. 

But here’s a more scientific explanation: It’s all about the jet stream, a ribbon of fast-moving air that flows west to east over the Northern Hemisphere. NOAA defines it this way: “Jet streams are the major means of transport for weather systems. A jet stream is an area of strong winds ranging from 120–250 mph that can be thousands of miles long, a couple of hundred miles across and a few miles deep… This means most jet streams are about 6–9 miles off the ground.”

But how does it work? And why does it make the summers warmer and the winters colder? Please see the story below for answers.

Recent headlines on climate events should make things difficult for the average global warming/climate change denier:

Last year was the fourth hottest year on record, globally.

Just two days ago, on June 13, Greenland lost two billion tons of ice.

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world. Because of the warm air above, the Arctic sea ice melts, turning its surface from one that reflects to one  that absorbs solar energy, warming up the water even more. Without the ice cover, water evaporates, contributing to greenhouse gases. A vicious circle.

And the levels of carbon dioxide — the greenhouse gas considered most responsible for global warming — have reached 415 PPM (parts per million), the highest they have ever been in human history.

But will all of this disastrous news make global warming and climate change more difficult to deny? Probably not, because when winter comes, it may be colder than ever, and last longer.

And try to explain this to the denier: the winters are colder — because the planet is heating up.

Here is a video that will show you just how that happens, as well as a lot of other amazing things about our planet.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from NASA.

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22 responses to “The Paradox of Global Warming and Colder Winters”

  1. reads247 says:

    A couple more things: The 1954 book “Sun, Sea and Sky,” by Krick and Fleming, makes a wavy jetstream out to be totally normal weather (p. 44) and has a photo of a simulation of the jet stream in a rotating annulus/pan of water experiment (opposite p. 128). The water in the center is cooled and the water at the outer edges of the larger pan is heated and a standing waves with 5 nodes is shown to set up quite nicely. Probably, a David Fultz experiment. The Univ. of Chicago, Dept. of Meteorology is credited for the photo.

    With regards to volcanoes being an utterly unpredictable and discounted element in the weather, potentially impacting the jet stream, as well as the stratosphere, a fascinating paper is “Volcanic Cyclogenesis” at arcticvolcanoes.wordpress.com.

  2. reads247 says:

    In the 1978 book by John Gribbin, “What’s Wrong With Our Weather,” Gribbin equates a wavy jetstream with “global cooling.” (pp. 25-26)

    You might want to keep an eye on the KVERT website and go through the archives. The site monitors the volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. Sheveluch has been erupting over and over, through late summer and fall, up until just recently.

    Then you might want to google the work of Wyss Yim, a Hong Kong scientist who has been writing about the injection of heat into the oceans, by submarine volcanoes, flipping weather patterns like the Indian Ocean Dipole.

    Can’t wait till volcanologists and meteorologists start talking to one another!

  3. JR Odermatt says:

    Jet stream changes, modified circulation patterns in the world’s oceans, the Milankovitch cycle of Earth’s tilt on its axis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles, the greenhouse effect and the human contributions to that greenhouse effect. All contribute to the climate change phenomenon – the only part we can affect is our emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so why would we not want clean up our act and make the world a bit better? If not for yourself, then for the next generation of humans to inherit the planet… :-)

  4. Perhaps the fact that Earth’s tilt has already changed from the loss of Arctic ice might inspire a little further thought. Loss of weight affects the tilt scope like pressure on a gyroscope. Maybe the statistics that show an increase in average world temperature over time that begins to rise with the coming of the industrial age, then rises exponentially to the point it is almost a straight line up in the chart.

  5. Artsy mom says:

    To my understanding, the hot/cold cycle the earth is going through, is like the flu. You are burning up with fever, yet you are shivering cold under a pile of blankets. You are still running a 103 fever even though you feel cold. It may be a simplistic way to look at it, but perhaps people need that simple way to look at it.

  6. Jose Marin says:

    Look at all the “experts” here saying global warming is a hoax. These people get their info from Google searches and websites that specifically deny the science. What a sad joke these people are to say they know more than science. They don’t know science; scientists know science. Listen to the Majority scientists: human caused climate change is real.

  7. Austin says:

    This is directed at, and focuses on effects in the Northern Hemisphere. There was one quick image that showed a similar southern polar jet stream. Are the results in the southern hemisphere similar?

  8. Frank says:

    We are at the end of an Ice Age and I never see a discussion about that. Much of the Earth was covered with Glaciers and ice: ten thousand years ago. What happened to all the ice? It melted without any help from our SUVs. What caused it to melt? I submit that the Earth is returning to its Pre-Ice Age state: a semi-tropical/temperate climate. Why get alarmed about a Natural Process? I would be more alarmed about the return of an Ice Age and no one ever discusses that.

  9. Robby says:

    “I’ve never heard of water being a greenhouse gas.”

    That’s because its not the water that the issue. Its the carbon that *was* trapped in the arctic ice, some of it contained for a very long time, now being let loose.

    “Not buying it, global warming and climate change are failing to deliver on its promises.”

    Unprecedented amounts of massive fires, unseasonal hurricanes and floods, and continuous record breaking heat waves now happening on a regular basis, the ice caps fading away, the coral reefs dying, isn’t a warning sign to you?

    “If I could suggest an improvement?

    Show more data. Show the actual warmer and cooler temperatures, and show the annual, seasonal, and monthly uncertainties.”

    This is meant to be a one step illustration to explain the problem to small children, and those that can’t wrap their heads around even the idea of why global warming also leads to cooler weather. There’s thousands of pieces of evidence and articles abound.

  10. Bill Middlecamp says:

    Although Earth’s climate has changed repeatedly over its 4.5 billion years of existence, the climate during the rise of humans (~10,000 years) has been very stable. Now, it is changing very rapidly by comparison to previous changes, and this time it is because of human activities. More than 97% of scientists who study this, who publish their findings, and whose work is peer reviewed, are in agreement on this point. Humans have built our societies and our ways of life based on that stable environment. The changes are already hurting the poorest of us, those least responsible who are also least able to adapt.

  11. Ben Laba says:

    THE problem with lying or perpetuating a scam is that you have to be aware of the spin you’ve spun to get you there.

    IN the realm of climate and weather, you pray to god (or Gaia) that the prognostications and rules, as laid out by the “97%” of ‘experts’, come to fruition or go close enough to bolster your alarmist position.

    CLIMATE and weather outcomes vary greatly, depending on many factors, most of which we are yet to fully understand. Perhaps if ever, owing to the fact that “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” (IPCC TAR 2001)

    WITH that in mind, it is feasible and encouraged to identify errors in predictions. From this we can identify uncertainty in order to sharpen hypothesis and curb costly hysteria.

  12. NorthMan says:

    “CONTRIBUTING to the accumulation of greenhouse gases”

  13. Phin says:

    This is lovely and convoluted. When a scientific theory makes a prediction and the prediction fails one is supposed to change the theory to improve the skill. This is such a change. It is attempting to preserve a therory that does not give the result expected. What is apparently not important is the failed theory not better skill.

    Long ago we had a theory that the planets revolved around the earth. As our ability to see the solar system with telescopes it became necessary to make the theory more and more complicated to explain the issues . Eventually Galeo observed the moons of Saturn and no further explanation was possible.

  14. Jeremy says:

    “Without the ice cover, water evaporates, contributing to greenhouse gases. A vicious circle.” Water evaporates, and becomes clouds…blocking the sun’s rays. I’ve never heard of water being a greenhouse gas.

    If this were legit, Al Gore wouldn’t have bought ocean front property. China, the #1 producer of CO2, wouldn’t have been given a free pass to keep generating as much CO2 as it wants. Global warming scientists wouldn’t have been busted discussing the best ways to manipulate the data.

    If you were a scientist studying an otherwise underfunded field, it would be beneficial for your funding if suddenly all life on the planet was in danger of dying off.

  15. Dv says:

    Pull up graphs of the amount of carbon dioxide in the air coupled with graphs of average temperatures and you will see that whenever the percentage of carbon in the air changes the temperature changes right with it for the last four hundred thousand years. But never in all that time has the level of carbon changed so radically as it has in the last hundred years

  16. Craig Latimer says:

    Not buying it, global warming and climate change are failing to deliver on its promises.

  17. Linda says:

    What does everyone think about Jim Bendells paper Deep Adaptation? and the responses and similar papers.

  18. Mark says:

    Not denying that there is warming, just don’t think we are causing it entirely. The Earth has gone through warm and cold periods going back millions of years, even before humans were here. To think we are the sole cause of it is naive. That being said, we do need to take better care of our planet and make responsible choices. My opinion only.

  19. Virgil says:

    Is only a quality explanation not a quantity demonstration. Must have some math inside to be sustainable. Everyone can invent his own story to explain whatever they want.

  20. D'Arcy Demianoff-Thompson says:

    Although more data would help those who are scientifically minded – it would not help those who are not! This article is clear, and concise. The article drives the global warming point home without losing the reader in statistical data they may not understand. Worse yet – may feel intimidated by.

  21. Bryce Lee says:

    If I could suggest an improvement?

    Show more data. Show the actual warmer and cooler temperatures, and show the annual, seasonal, and monthly uncertainties.

  22. Paul says:

    One of the better explanations 9f this phenomenon. On of my Denier friends actually changed his mind after seeing this. Thank you!