From winter coat to summer shorts, an explanation

Charlottesville is experiencing a quick shift in whether from freezing temperatures days ago, to 70 degree temperatures today, to significant snow tomorrow night. Now, I’m not one to complain about winter days that facilitate me wearing shorts simply enjoying the outdoors, but the weather these past 7 days got me thinking about the environment and to where my mind often wanders, climate change.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 11.21.09 PM
Charlottesville Temperatures in the past month
Charlottesville Forecast
Charlottesville Forecast for the next 2 days

 

 

Now only a few days ago, I read an article that was on just this topic, referencing a study that attempted to explain the reasons for extreme weather. More precisely, in 2012, two researchers with a particular interest in the Arctic, Rutgers’ Jennifer Francis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Stephen Vavrus, published a paper called “Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes.” In it, they suggested that the fact that the Arctic is warming so rapidly is leading to an unexpected but profound effect on the weather where the vast majority of us live. Their theory suggests that this is effecting the jet stream, that Arctic warming is making it more wavy and loopy on average.

As explained in the article and by Francis, “Warm air expands, and naturally there is much more warm air at the equator than at the poles. Thus, the atmosphere is thicker at the equator, and the jet stream’s motion is driven by the decline in atmospheric thickness as one moves in a poleward direction — in effect, its atmospheric river flows downhill. However, if the Arctic is warming faster than the mid-latitudes, then the difference in thickness as you move in a poleward direction should decrease. And this should slow the jet stream, leading to more loops and turns — and consequently, weather of all types getting stuck in place for longer.” Now, this idea of changing jet streams is not scientific consensus, but there are many different scientific papers published in the last year or so are supportive of the idea (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Jet Stream
Jet Stream illustraion

While this theory may need work and more support and data for evidence, there is a truth to the effects of a warming arctic, and the climate is changing, whatever the more exact effects are. Please take the time to consider your actions in bigger terms, not only to the environment, but society as a whole.

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