Tuesday will bring record-shattering brutal Arctic temperatures across much of the Midwest, shutting down school and businesses.
Temperatures will drop so low that the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, warned that people should “avoid taking deep breaths, and minimize talking,” if they go outside, according to USA Today. Grand Forks Airport in North Dakota reported a wind chill of 61 degrees below zero on Tuesday, and the governors of Wisconsin and Illinois have put emergency plans in place to deal with what may be the deepest freeze in a generation.
President Trump had a solution in a tweet on Tuesday morning: “What the hell is going on with global warming? Please come back fast, we need you!”
What Trump misses is that the dangerous cold is actually because of global warming.
“Mr. Trump's latest tweet demonstrates yet again his apparent willful lack of understanding about climate change,” Jennifer Francis, a senior Arctic climate scientist at Woods Hole Research Center, told the Daily Beast via email. “He [Trump] has the best climate scientists in the world working for the government he runs, and with one phone call could learn how this cold spell does not disprove global warming, and may even be caused by it.”
Trump mixes up a few concepts in his tweet. Climate and weather aren’t synonyms. Climate refers to the average weather patterns in a region over a long period of time. For example, southern California and Seattle are known to have different climates based on a number of days that are hot and sunny versus cold and rainy. Weather encompasses the day-to-day fluctuations in precipitation and temperature, like the wind and snow in Chicago during the day on Tuesday and the flurries in New York at the same time.
Trump also completely misses the difference between global warming and climate change. When oceanographer Wallace Smith Broecker popularized the term “global warming,” he and the scientific community were referring to greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere and raising the earth’s overall temperature.
That doesn’t mean that winter will cease to exist though. Scientists have since shown that climate change will look like a rise in both hot and cold extremes, as well has an increase in natural disasters like hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires—and yes, Arctic blizzards.
The polar vortex and the brutal weather are actually a result of climate change, something Trump is completely missing. Because of climate change, the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, according to the 2018 Arctic Report Card. “One of the factors—according to recent research—is the dramatic loss of sea ice in the region north of western Russia,” Francis said.
The polar vortex is a freezing mass of cold air that lives above the North Pole, and is usually trapped there by westerly winds from the polar jet stream, which keeps it in place. But when the excess heat from the rapidly warming arctic hits the stratosphere, it can split the winds holding the true polar vortex in place. This causes the vortex to dip further south, moving the coldest air from the North Pole into Canada, Russia or the northern United States.
“When this happens, instead of having this circular pool of cold air parked over the North Pole, it breaks it up into these smaller eddies, and these globs of cold air fly southward,” Francis said. “And we’ve got one of those globs of Arctic air over the Midwest right now.”