White House Strikes Back at Climate Skeptics Over ‘Polar Vortex’

The Polar Vortex is a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both north and south poles.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 8, 2014, 1:04 p.m.

White House sci­ence ad­viser John Hold­ren is push­ing back against con­ser­vat­ives who claim the U.S. cold snap shows that glob­al warm­ing isn’t real.

“If you have been hear­ing that ex­treme cold spells, like the one that we are hav­ing in the United States now, dis­prove glob­al warm­ing, don’t be­lieve it,” Hold­ren said in a video the White House cir­cu­lated Wed­nes­day.

In fact, he notes, “a grow­ing body of evid­ence” sug­gests that the type of ex­treme cold the U.S. is ex­per­i­en­cing could be­come more fre­quent as glob­al warm­ing con­tin­ues.

The former Har­vard Uni­versity pro­fess­or’s short video ar­rives as con­ser­vat­ives who deny hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change are seiz­ing on the cold snap.

Rush Limbaugh claimed this week that the “po­lar vor­tex” — the Arc­tic cold-air mass that’s in­vaded the U.S. — is a left-wing and me­dia in­ven­tion to link the cold snap to the “glob­al warm­ing agenda.”

And on the Sen­ate floor this week, Sen. James In­hofe, R-Okla., cited the cold weath­er to sup­port his claims that glob­al warm­ing is a hoax.

In­hofe’s views are counter to the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of sci­ent­ists who say hu­man activ­it­ies are a driv­ing force be­hind rising glob­al tem­per­at­ures.

Hold­ren said, “No single weath­er epis­ode can either prove or dis­prove glob­al cli­mate change.”

But Hold­ren offered a brief les­son on how glob­al warm­ing could be fuel­ing this week’s fri­gid tem­per­at­ures by af­fect­ing the po­lar vor­tex, which he noted is the swirl­ing mass of cold air that hov­ers around the North Pole.

He said the Arc­tic is warm­ing roughly twice as fast as mid-lat­it­ude areas like the U.S., so the tem­per­at­ure dif­fer­ence between the re­gions is shrink­ing. That’s weak­en­ing the vor­tex and mak­ing it “wavi­er.”

“The wavi­ness means that there can be in­creased, lar­ger ex­cur­sions of cold air south­ward, that is, in­to the mid-lat­it­udes, and in the oth­er phase of the wave, in­creased ex­cur­sions of re­l­at­ively warm­er, mid-lat­it­ude air in­to the north,” Hold­ren said.

The White House is also host­ing an on­line event Fri­day with cli­mate sci­ent­ists and oth­er ex­perts about the cold snap, ex­treme weath­er, and cli­mate change.

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