By Brad Friedman on 1/5/2014, 6:23pm PT  

That's pretty much how it starts every winter now. The sentiment in the toon above is of a piece with Fox News tool Stuart Varney who offered this bit of genius to Fox' easily duped viewers last week...

The laughably absurd notion that a boat getting stuck in the ice in Antarctica is somehow a sign of "global cooling", as Varney actually argues, out loud, on television, is part of the now-annual "it's cold in winter, so there is no global warming!" nonsense that I suspect we'll be seeing much more of this week, thanks to the fact that it's cold in a large swath of the U.S. suddenly. More on that extreme cold in parts of the U.S., and why it's here --- and not in the Arctic, where it belongs --- in a moment.

But to help the scientifically-challenged (and, apparently, too many of my trollish Twitter followers) understand how ice in the Antarctic --- where there is ice --- is, in and of itself, a sign of nothing, Varney's televised idiocy notwithstanding, here's how one climate activist explained it in a Letter to the Editor at the Concord Monitor, in response to another LTE written by some dupe named Tom Sellew, who used the Monitor to forward the same, fact-free nonsense as Varney...

The letter titled "About that warming" (Monitor, Jan. 1) pokes fun at climate researchers being stuck in ice in Antarctica. As NASA can confirm, there is less sea ice globally than 30 years ago; the small increase in overall ice in Antarctica does not compare to the vast losses in the Arctic.

Researchers at NASA, UCLA, and the University of Colorado have uncovered an increase in the westerly winds surrounding Antarctica, which has the effect of expanding the outer edge of sea ice. Scientific studies have also determined why the winds have accelerated.

First, global warming has changed temperature differences between the poles and equator, creating stronger winds. Second, ozone absorbs sunlight, and with the human-induced hole in the ozone layer, there's a colder stratosphere over the southern pole, affecting wind patterns, according to University of New Zealand experts.

As the atmosphere contains 4 percent more water vapor than 30 years ago, increased precipitation is another factor. Science is amazing when we seek to understand it.



Why the Concord Monitor would run the initial letter in the first place, as absurdly fact-free as it is --- the writer Sellew jokes about "polar bears...clawing their way up the hull of the ship" (pssst...there are no polar bears in Antarctica) --- is a good question, and one that the Monitor should be asking itself, even as it should be recoiling with shame for having done so. While many of my stoogeish Twitter followers don't appear to know the difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic, the Monitor certainly should, and they should be striving to educate and inform their readers, not confuse them with verifiable nonsense like that found in Sellew's initial letter.

As to the extraordinary cold beginning to blast a large portion of the Midwest this week in the U.S. (accompanied by unusual warmth in places like Alaska and down here in Southern California at the same time), that is another troubling example of the same record-breaking and extreme weather patterns which climate scientists have long predicted would be the result of global climate change. In this case, the cause is a polar vortex blast --- bringing the Arctic air, which usually stays up in the Arctic, down to parts of the Midwest --- as the jet stream dips, actually moves, much farther south than usual.

A polar vortex is like a hurricane of cold air which (usually) swirls only above the Artic. Here's a short and sweet explainer from Business Insider on Sunday on what a polar vortex is and how the unusual displacement of this one could very well be a result of global (or, in this case, Arctic) warming...

Polar vortexes, though, are nothing new. They occur seasonally at the North Pole, and their formation resembles that of hurricanes in more tropical regions: fast-moving winds build up around a calm center. Unlike a hurricane, these are frigid polar winds, circling the Arctic at more than 100 miles per hour.

The spinning winds typically trap this cold air in the Arctic. But the problem comes when the polar vortex weakens or splits apart, essentially flinging these cold wind patterns out of the Arctic and into our backyards. NOAA scientists have suggested that warming temperatures in the Arctic may be responsible for the weakening of the polar vortex. When the vortex weakens, it's more likely to break apart and become a factor in our winter weather.

A 2009 vortex breakdown drove temperatures in parts of the Midwest down to -22F. Here's a NASA illustration of the polar vortex (left) and it splitting in two (right):

It won't just feel like Arctic temperatures in parts of the country this week - the weather system is actually Arctic air invading from the north.

The two graphics above, courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory, show the polar vortex as it broke down and split apart from January to February 2009. Below is a graphic of the polar vortex breaking down and moving south as we're seeing it (and feeling it!) this weekend...

ScienceBlog's Greg Laden (via Peter Sinclair's Crock of the Week) explains the above graphic this way:

In this picture, notice that it is not the case that super cold arctic air has expanded to engulf us in the middle of the US. ... But what this image of temperatures over a large part of the northern hemisphere shows is what is really happening. The cold air in the "Arctic Vortex" which is normally centered on the north pole is offset, displaced, lopsided, etc. It is not the case that "coldness" expands to include more territory ... how would that work in a world that obeys physics? But rather, the cold region on the pole shifts and deforms. So if you go north from the Twin Cities, for example, it gets colder and colder. But then, it gets warmer!

So, those are the facts. Nonetheless, brace yourself this week both for the cold and for a fresh blast of Climate Change Denialism from the folks who have a corporate/fossil-fueled interest in making sure that you don't have such facts, or from those who are either dumb enough or incurious enough to buy into the denialist bullshit and pass it along.

For the record, for those who may not have noticed, as Peter Moskowitz at Aljazeera America helpfully summarized today: "The past year only made it into the top ten of the hottest years on record, but November broke all records for that month, and 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the U.S."

Other than that, Mr. Varney, yeah, it's "global cooling". Nice to see that you believe your viewers are too stupid to learn any better. Sadly, they probably are.