A new study shows how global climate change can have ripple effects at the local level. According to the research, extreme winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern U.S. when the Arctic is unusually warm. The Verge reports: Researchers analyzed a variety of atmospheric data in the Arctic, as well as how severe winter weather was in 12 cities across the U.S. from 1950 to 2016. Since 1990, as the Arctic has been warming up and losing ice, extreme cold snaps and heavy snow in the winter have been two to four times more frequent in the eastern U.S. and the Midwest, while in the western U.S., their frequency has decreased, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The study, however, only shows there might be a correlation — not a direct causal link — between the warming Arctic and severe winters in the U.S. And it doesn’t show how exactly the two are connected, so it doesn’t really add much to what scientists already knew, according to several experts.
Today’s study focuses on the Arctic as the main culprit for the extreme winter weather. Previous research has suggested that the warming Arctic may disrupt the polar vortex, a ring of swirling cold air circling the North Pole. Think of the polar vortex as a river, says study co-author Judah Cohen, a climatologist and director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. The fast flow of this river locks up the cold air over the Arctic. But as the Arctic warms — especially in some areas like the Barents-Kara seas north of Europe and Russia — a boulder springs up in this river, disrupting the polar vortex and allowing the freezing Arctic air to flow south, Cohen says.
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