During the month of February, the northeastern U.S. experienced high temperatures that broke over 5,000 records, with some places like Boston and and Cincinnati reaching the mid-seventies. Some claim that this unusual spike in temperature proves climate change, while others claim this heat wave is insignificant because the 2013 to 2014 winter was the fourth coldest on record.
Climate change is real. Temperatures have risen since the industrial revolution due to the introduction of carbon dioxide, which is a phenomenon that recorded history has never seen. But saying that one warm event or one cold event proves or disproves climate change is incorrect because the hypothesis of climate change isn’t based off of several extreme events.
What is climate change?
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) defines climate change as “any systematic change in the long-term statistics of climate elements sustained over several decades or longer.” In the media, climate change, or global warming, refers to the increase in temperature that has been occurring for over a century.
Some people don’t believe in climate change because this change in temperature would have gone unnoticed if nobody had attempted to monitor the average global temperature over the last several decades. According to NASA, the increase in temperature is on a scale of 0.27-0.36°F per decade, which doesn’t sound significant at first, but this can cause an increase in sea level, tropical storm intensity and heat waves.
Why one event doesn’t prove anything
So if I’m saying that global warming is connected to heat waves, then why am I saying that it’s incorrect to say that this heat wave proves climate? Because this heat wave had nothing to do with climate change to begin with. The northern U.S. is accompanied with an area of high upper-level winds, called a jet stream, The position of the jet stream over that time period dipped south, bringing warm air from states like Texas to the northeastern United States. The last time this has happened was back in March 2012, when high temperatures reached the mid-eighties in several areas including Chicago and New York City.
Climate and weather are not the same thing. Climate focuses on statistical information that spans several years, while weather only focuses on information that spans a couple of days. Therefore it makes no sense to say that a cold winter that happened three years ago contradicts climate change or several days of warm temperatures in winter proves climate change.
If you want to look at the evidence that supports the idea of climate change, look at a global mean temperature graph. They will show that since the industrial revolution and humans have begun producing large amounts of carbon dioxide, temperatures have been increasing. Don’t use one event to prove or disprove a claim that requires decades of data.