Looking back on 2013, the world was freezing, both virtually and realistically. Well, in November 2013, Disney’s film Frozen ruled the whole globe. Even in summer, there was coldness with the film Snowpiercer. But the reality was worse as an extreme cold wave hit the United States (U.S.) harshly this winter. Indeed, U.S. citizens shivered in extreme coldness and some actually froze to death. The harsh winter has reignited discussions on climate change.
The 2013 North American cold wave is currently at the center of the issue of climate change. Sometimes known as a cold snap, a cold wave, according to Glossary of Meteorology, is a weather occurrence in which the temperature lowers extremely—the weather condition cruelly worsens to the point where the locals need protection socially, economically and agriculturally from unbearable coldness. The definition alone though does not convey the brutality of it.
What Is Going on
Snow and blizzards eventually covered up much of the country. The initial start was the snow storm “Hercules,” an unofficial snow event. Beginning on January 3, the fierce storm raged in Northeast and Midwest states, killing 16 people. But this was only the beginning. In many places, temperatures fell below zero degrees Fahrenheit and thick snow piled as high as a foot or more. Even southern states were affected. In fact, locations in 50 states were reported to have temperatures below freezing during the cold wave.
Such coldness is unusual, especially for Southern Americans, people who are used to “warm” winters. For them, this year’s winter was obviously much colder as they met with rain and snow. Plus, freezing winds were blowing not just in the North, but the Southern Americans too faced them. In California, four people died due to this icy coldness. Indeed, statistics show how cruel the cold wave could be.
Minnesota was struck with the bitterest cold. Being a traditionally cold state, the locals have been enduring the cold very well. However, the cold wave this year was just too much, dropping the temperature as low as -35 °F (-37 °C). “When you walked outside, your nostrils froze in like 2 seconds,” said Johanna Back (19, Minnesota) who was at the core of the cold wave. “We threw boiling water outside, and it evaporated before it touched the ground. Also, we've had six consecutive snowing days this year, which is more than I have had all together for like the last 11 years”
In New York, a miraculous yet somewhat horrifying event took place. The Niagara Falls froze. Glancing at the frozen falls from a distance, it was beautiful, seeming like a surrealistic artwork. But viewing it with knowing that the same coldness affected its neighboring and farther areas negatively is a whole different story.
In fact, the waterfall’s ice formation reminds one of the potential ice age that might strike humanity. In that sense, the U.S. cold wave is not just an American issue anymore; the whole globe should pay attention to its cause. After its occurrence, experts and public have been discussing the cold wave restlessly, associating it with global warming.
Not only the U.S., but countries such as Great Britain, Ireland and Argentina, even southern Mediterranean countries like Spain, have been struck with one or more cold waves in the 21st century. Clearly, cold waves are a global phenomenon. So in order to prevent people dying from coldness and the economy being fixed due to the extreme weather, humanity has been taking measures, and analyzing the process and the causes.
According to Dr. Ahn Byungok (51, Seoul), the head of the Institute of Climate Change Action, the polar vortex is to be blamed. “Polar vortex is the whirlwind which is supposed to hold on to the cold yet dense air in the Arctic. The strong jet stream usually holds it back from heading south.” But this winter, the jet stream weakened. With its collapse, the cold air current eventually leaked south to the U.S. Then, the cold wave hit the country aforementioned.
Indeed, people are pretty anxious about discovering what weakened the jet stream which was supposed to control the polar vortex. Supposedly, a sudden heat—the cause of it is not clearly known yet—is the probable cause. Like Bryan Walsh, a senior reporter at TIME Magazine who called global warming “the global weirding,” many believe that global warming has something to do with this year's abnormally cold weather, whether it be the cause or the result. More specifically, the public wants to know: Is global warming behind all these unlikely climatic events? Or are the recent cold waves the proof that the global warming is a hoax?
What the Cold Wave Implies
Some experts are sticking with their firm belief that global warming is the culprit. To them, artificial forces are mainly responsible for the current abnormal weather conditions. Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University Gary Yohe agreed global warming was at fault when it comes to the cold wave. Climate Central, a news website specializing at climate science, seems to be supporting the idea also. Fox News, though, linked the cold wave with global cooling. According to their reports, the earth is not heating; it is heading for a cooler climate.
Ahn, the climate expert admitted that some regard the cold wave the proof that the Little Ice Age is approaching. “However, such an approach is the same as not seeing the woods for the trees. There are no relation between the cold wave and the global cooling,” said Ahn. He also stated that it is mainly few skeptics who are supporting global cooling. Indeed, the controversy of whether it is a matter of global warming or global cooling has been decided academically.
Back to the issue, others claim that global warming has nothing to do with the cold waves. Professor Elizabeth Barnes of Colorado State University refuted the presumptions by stating that there is too little observational evidence for an increase in the frequency of cold waves. She also showed in her research that the amount of cold air reaching the U.S. has been declining.
Siding with such panel which do not believe in any relationship between global warming and the cold wave, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—a global gathering of government bodies, scientists and experts regarding climatic matters—concluded, "There is likely to be a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks in New Hampshire winter in most areas."
Rather being doubtful toward the concrete relationship between global warming and the cold wave, Ahn also mentioned that in order to relate cold wave with the temperature rise in the Artic, there needs to be more research. “It seems that, just relating this one incident to prolonging ice age doesn’t seem clear enough. Database should be accumulated more if clear scientific evidence is to be found for the relation.”
To put it simply, the controversy is ongoing and no conclusions have been made yet. However regardless of the debates’ end, the globe’s residents should be prepared. Who knows what is going to happen in such unstable climatic environments? Humanity might soon be facing an ice age like the ones vividly portrayed in Snowpiercer. Global organizations and government bodies along with their citizens should be paying attention to and investigating the environmental states they are living in. This winter's cold wave just might be the beginning