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Research suggests polar cold snaps are caused by warming Arctic

A growing body of research supports that as the planet warms due to climate change, it becomes easier for polar air to escape and plunge across the United States.

The bitter cold snap that hit much of Minnesota this week “has always been part of our climatology in Minnesota,” said Kenneth Blumenfeld, a climatologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

But cutting-edge research, he said, suggests the air currents that usually keep this freezing air locked in the Arctic are weakening, letting polar air reach farther south.

“Something about the way the climate warms – which probably has something to do with the Arctic region itself – promotes the destabilization of the polar air mass, which then sends it occasionally spiraling into the American continent and a little deeper than you think,” Blumenfeld said.

A study published last year in the journal Science suggested that changing snow and ice cover in the Arctic helped push the cold into the southern gusts.

The freezing cold is “for us maybe not so much a surprise, but for further south, definitely a surprise,” said Ryan Dunleavy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.

Near-freezing temperatures are predicted in Florida but on Saturday, and in Texas, many are bracing to see if the state’s energy grid will hold up, nearly two years after a cold snap in early 2021 brought general outages. That freeze resulted in at least 246 deaths, according to the Texas Tribune.

Minnesota forecasters warned of blowing snow, poor travel conditions and wind chill dipping to 30 to 45 below freezing.

This week’s storm, as well as the system last week that dropped wet, sloppy snow that melted soon after, both show another sign of global warming: When storms arrive, they tend to carry more water, Blumenfeld said.

This week’s snowmelt would be between a third and a half inch of water, “and that’s a lot of precipitation,” Blumenfeld said.

“That’s actually what we see everywhere is that hot or cold, our weather systems often have more humidity with them,” he added.

The trend also challenges the common refrain that it can be “too cold to snow” in Minnesota.

As meteorologist Sven Sundgaard tweeted earlier this week“It’s absolutely a myth: ask people in Siberia. It can only get too hot to snow.”

Many people have this misconception because usually extreme cold is accompanied by a high-pressure system, which means clear skies, Blumenfeld said.

Although this week’s low temperatures have presented a deadly challenge for those traveling or otherwise outdoors, Blumenfeld said cold snaps of the past have been even harsher – such as in 1983, when the entire Upper Midwest was cut off from the cold and the wind. , and the trains were blocked.

“If you want to understand what it was like, you have to take the temperatures we have right now and subtract another 10 to 20 degrees,” he said. “It’s a whole category of seriousness worse.”

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