Is Storm Emma the result of climate change?

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Snow in Winter? Nothing out of the ordinary? Online Science Editor Bethany Harris investigates whether or not such freak weather conditions are the result of climate change and what we should expect from the future…

Whilst we love the snow and the chance to sledge down Park Street, it’s not all fun and games. Scientists are concerned about the causes of such freak weather and what it all means for climate change.

The government yesterday issued its first red warning in 5 years as the worst blizzards since 1962 approach us.

With Strom Emma causing severe disruption throughout the country, and a number of Bristol flights cancelled or delayed, it poses the question as to what has caused ‘the worst snow storm in 50 years’ to terrorise the UK. The government yesterday issued its first red warning in 5 years as the worst blizzards since 1962 approach us.

To the individual, snow in Winter is not unusual; if anything its exciting. However scientists are concerned that all the snow and ice is a sign of climate change and may be a precursor to unpredictable and extreme weather in the future.

A man shoveling snow off his driveway in Muskoka
Photo by Filip Mroz / Unsplash

We all know that climate change is fast acting and is leading to global warming, yet this week, whilst the UK is living in a deep freeze, the Arctic is experiencing a heatwave! Shockingly, temperatures have soared to above freezing, even exceeding temperatures in Bristol and posing severe implications to Arctic wildlife. Whilst temperatures are expected to rise, such spikes in temperature are of great concern to climatologists as predictions suggested that temperature rises would be gradual year by year.

Scientists have suggested that these unusual Arctic conditions may in fact be the result of the polar vortex becoming weaker. This vortex, which includes strong winds and a jet stream, insulates the Arctic, essentially keeping it cold and preventing warm air from entering. It arises due to the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the warmer mid-latitudes. However, as the difference in temperature decreases due to global warming, the polar vortex becomes weaker, allowing warm air in and cold air out.

It can be seen as a warning for the future, urging us to take action.

This therefore may offer an explanation as to the blizzards and freezing conditions taking over the country, as cold air ‘leaks’ from the Arctic and spreads over the northern hemisphere, creating a longer and harsher winter, not to mention panic.

Whilst it is possible to argue that Storm Emma may be a fluke or a freak event, it can also be seen as a warning for the future, urging us to take action and prevent climate change from worsening. With the polar vortex ever decreasing as global temperatures rise, we can expect freezing temperatures and snow storms not unlike those we have experienced over the past week to take hold over the Winter months.

However, we should not focus solely on the UK and the possible future changes in weather conditions. With the Arctic warming, a large variety of flora and fauna, such as the beloved polar bear, is set to become extinct, leading to the formation of an environment similar to that of the Boreal Forests of Alaska.

So what can we as students do to help prevent further climate change? Simply turn lights and TV’s off when not in use, or bike instead of drive and reduce carbon emissions whilst burning off last nights kebab. And we all know where methane, a large contributor to global warming, comes from – go meat free once or twice a week! Small changes could make a huge difference whilst also saving us all money on our Winter thermals!

Featured Image: Unsplash / Christine Makhlouf


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