Persistent droughts out west. A colder than normal winter in the east. Torrential rains in the midwest over the past few days. What’s causing all the weird weather? Turns out, it’s the wind.
A new study published over the weekend in Nature points the finger at fluctuating wind patterns far above the Earth’s surface.
This isn’t the first time scientists have turned their eyes way into the sky for an answer to extreme weather and global warming. Extensive research has been done on the link between wind patterns and global warming.
“Over the past three decades, there is evidence that extreme weather events are linked to changes in atmospheric air flow patterns,” said study lead author James Screen of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
Whether it’s just Earth being Earth or global warming, fluctuations in the jet stream can have a prolonged and major impact on weather. This doesn’t only mean severe weather such as tornadoes or hurricanes either. Jet stream fluctuations can also lead to major droughts, such as the one impacting California and other areas of the western U.S.
“The implication of our study is that if climate change was to make these wave patterns more frequent, this could lead to more heat waves in the western U.S., droughts in the central U.S. and cold outbreaks in the eastern U.S.,” Screen said.
The jet stream typically blows from west to east around the globe. But, it doesn’t go in a straight line. It has massive troughs and ridges. Remember the polar vortex everyone loved to talk about earlier this year. That was the jet stream diving through Canada down through the eastern parts of the country. With the jet stream came all the cold air pinned up near the arctic. Where there’s a trough, there’s also a ridge. While the eastern portions of the country were seeing record cold, the west was warmer and drier than normal.
How does climate change factor into all of this? Scientists believe human caused climate change could lead to more fluctuations in the jet stream, and in turn more weather extremes.