Like a scene from ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, freezing temperatures and record levels of snow are being seen and recorded all over the UK and mainland Europe. It’s due to record warming of the Arctic Circle and its bringing whole countries to a standstill.

London has been hit hard by the cold weather

But what is causing this ‘freak’ weather, and does climate change have a role to play?

The Arctic Heatwave

It’s unprecedented.

The Arctic, like any other region in the world, experiences heatwaves but nothing like the one that is currently lingering at the highest latitudes. In an area of the world that lives in complete darkness during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere, there have been a record number of hours above 0°C (up to three times higher than the historical average).

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The warm air currently stuck over the Arctic pushing cold air south (top-right)

In the past, the polar vortex has kept the most northern latitudes cool and protect most of the UK and mainland Europe from Arctic temperatures. However, the warm air that has forced itself over the Arctic has caused a breakup of the polar vortex allowing cold air to move south causing blizzards, snowstorms and freezing temperatures across the European continent.

The gradual reduction of sea ice, most likely due to climate change, is causing warmer waters to rise to the surface and releasing more heat into the atmosphere affecting the high altitude jet stream over the North Atlantic that has controlled western Europe’s climate for millions of years

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Think this graph speaks for itself…                                                                                                       (Source: The Guardian UK)

This, of course, could be nothing more than a freak event that is never repeated during the rest of history, but data suggests that this is an extreme of what will become increasingly common in the future as our winters become harsher.

Knock-on Effects

Snow in the UK and Europe has been almost off the charts. Rome saw its first snow in six years, the heaviest recorded snowfall since records began, bringing the Italian capital to a standstill. Temperatures in Lithuania reached a chilling -24°C, and the UK is being buried under feet of snow.

The Mediterranean city of Rome has seen record levels of snow

The reason for the UK’s dramatic weather is due to it being stuck between two weather phenomena at the moment. The ‘beast from the east’  in combination with the incoming Storm ‘Emma’ is causing freezing temperatures and turning the storm into a snowstorm that is currently heading for the south west of England with potentially disastrous consequences.

New Wave of Climate Change Denialism

When I think of those that claim that climate change is just a hoax and deny even deny that there is any change in our environment I often imagine someone stood with their fingers in their ears, eyes closed and screaming the second they hear the words ‘climate change’. The science is out there and it’s not hard to find. Our world is changing, and it isn’t for the better.

IMG_0295 Just one ridiculous comment…

For those that recognise the science of climate change probably acknowledge that this is one of the most catastrophic climate events in recent history. Given the rate of warming and recent trends of Arctic sea ice, scientists are even putting a 50% chance of there being no sea ice left in the Arctic during the summer months this year.

There is a common misconception that climate change means everything will get warmer and cold weather will be replaced with more mild weather during winters. For places like the UK and Europe which has seen record levels of snowfall and cold weather, this could be just the start of harsher winters. The warm weather that is currently being seen in the Arctic is pushing Arctic weather south over the UK and mainland Europe creating the conditions that have been seen over the past few days.

The Arctic weather has brought cities and whole countries all over Europe to a standstill. What is rarely factored into extreme weather like this is the social and economic impact. Businesses and schools remain closed, health and social services are crippled and short staffed, and parts of the country become impossible to access. Could this be a sign of things to come?

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