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VERIFY: Is the extreme winter cold of 2021 the result of climate change?

Record-breaking cold crippled much of the Midwest during the month of February, stretching all the way to the Texas coast. Is this a sign of climate change?

MOLINE, Ill — The recent cold spell turned our hometowns and much of the United States into a polar wasteland. Texas even experienced temperatures that were colder than Alaska! With how long and brutal the cold was, many are wondering if a changing climate is to blame for those Arctic temperatures. 


Is it true that global warming is not a big concern because it has gotten so cold all over the United States this winter? Or is this extra cold winter a symptom of global warming? 


We can confidently say that despite the colder temperatures, global warming is still a concern to those in the scientific community. As for whether this recent cold surge is a symptom of a changing climate, that is something we will need more research to determine if we are seeing these events more frequently. 


Our source is Dr. Petra Zimmermann, an Associate Professor of Geography at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. We need to understand that the recent cold spell is classified as a weather event. 

"We're talking about this recent cold spell that many of us are actually still under... and that's a weather event, but climate change, the climate event, so you can't really say an individual event is due to a changing climate", says Dr. Zimmermann. 

Credit: NOAA
Weather vs. Climate

Why was it so cold in the United States recently? Dr. Zimmermann explains, "You know with this particular cold spell, this is the polar vortex. The polar vortex is usually kept in place by a strong jet stream. That strong jet stream is moving in a west to east direction. When it weakens, you get more of this north and south kind of trajectory. That's when those lobes of cold air come in."

It's easy to only think about what is happening in our bubble, but other parts of the world have been experiencing record-breaking warmth this winter.

"You can't say that global warming is not happening because it happens to be normal temperatures or colder than normal temperatures in your location. The global scale is very different from the local scale", says Dr. Zimmermann. 

With this information, we can verify that global warming or climate change is still a concern. As for extreme weather events being a symptom, we still need some more data. 

"So you can't say for sure that this particular weather event is due to climate change. It may be, it may be part of a series of events like this that are getting worse and worse or more and more frequent. But it may not be. At this point what we really need is some additional research," says Dr. Zimmermann.

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