Science

Why Is It So Cold?

It’s not even winter!

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 11: Snow covers bicycles in the Bucktown neighborhood on November 11, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Forecasters are calling for three to six inches of snow to fall in the Chicago area by mid-day today and temperatures are expected to fall to around ten degrees Fahrenheit by tomorrow.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
I bet this dog is mad too.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

As I type this, my hands are still thawing out from my morning walk with my dog, who is still wearing her coat. Both of us are huddled under a fuzzy blanket in front of a space heater. In Chicago, where thousands of flights are messed up, one unsuspecting visitor told USA Today, “I woke up to nothing but snow.” CNN is blaming at least four deaths on snowy road conditions in Michigan and Ohio. The Pensacola News Journal urged Floridians to break out the socks and sweaters—it dipped below 30 degrees Fahrenheit there.

Welcome to fucking winter? Nope! We’re experiencing an “arctic outbreak,” says the National Weather Service, with record low temperatures pocking the nation. As a reminder, we don’t formally leave fall behind until Dec. 21 (though after Thanksgiving is the traditionally acceptable time to start trotting out snow-related decorations).

Whether climate change is to blame for this wildly impolite weather event is “a hard question to answer because weather is so inherently flighty,” Alejandra Borunda explains in National Geographic, though her piece also suggests “unusual cold weather could become more common.”

Atmospheric scientists themselves are debating whether this and the other cold snaps we’ve had this year are linked to global warming. Cold snaps have always happened. In another National Geographic piece, from earlier this year, climate scientist Kenneth Kunkel argued that our current cold snaps have “been kind of wimpy, really” compared with those of yore. This is no Great Arctic Outbreak of February 1899. So, maybe we’re wimps for complaining (But seriously, could you feel your hands this morning?)

That said, the whole system of cold air is pretty complicated to tease out. This particular front of Arctic air is due in part to high pressure in the West (the one area of the country not being affected). “The dynamics were in just the right place,” meteorologist Monique Sellers told the Dallas Morning News, for an article warning of wind chills in the teens in Texas. But by Tuesday, Dallas is expected to be in the 70s and sunny.