A first-of-its-kind study shows how climate change is causing, if counterintuitively, more periods of extreme cold in the central and eastern U.S. like the one that killed hundreds of people in Texas earlier this year.
The research, published Thursday in Science, measured atmospheric changes to explain how the rapidly warming Arctic destabilizes the vortex that (usually) keeps frigid air held over the polar region, leading to more ‘outbreaks’ in which icy air dives down into lower latitudes.
“It is counterintuitive that a rapidly warming Arctic can lead to an increase in extreme cold in a place as far south as Texas, but the lesson from our analysis is to expect the unexpected with climate change,” Judah Cohen, the study’s author, told the AP.
The study sheds new light on the Arctic blast that led to the failure of the Texas gas system and electrical grid, leaving residents to burn their furniture to stay warm.
“The Texas cold blast of February 2021 is a poster child for the link between a changing Arctic and cold blasts in lower latitudes,” climate scientist Jennifer Francis told the AP. Francis, who helped pioneer the theory underlying the study, but who was not a part of the research added, “The study takes this controversial hypothesized linkage and moves it solidly toward accepted science.”