We’ve Left the Freezer Door Open: How Winter Storm Uri is Linked to Global Warming

Power outages. Bursting water pipes. Gasoline shortages. Carbon monoxide poisoning accidents from the use of alternative heat sources. These past couple of weeks, Winter Storm Uri has brought frigid temperatures, pounds of snow, and thick sheets of ice to even the most unlikely, unprepared parts of the United States. The reason for this arctic blast? Scientists say global warming may be to blame. 

A phenomenon known as Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) became recognizable in the Arctic at the beginning of the year. When the temperature in the atmosphere above the Arctic rapidly warms, the jet stream winds that rein in the polar vortex,a spinning mass of cold air, are loosened. SSW is not a new phenomenon, but Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said that the Arctic is warming at a rate more than twice the global average - meaning these loosenings will become more frequent. 

Carbon emissions are the main culprit behind global warming. Even with efforts to switch to alternative energy sources like ethanol and electricity, the United States alone still output just over 5,000 million metric tons in 2019 - 15% of the world’s total carbon emissions. Essentially, the greenhouse effect, which stems from excessive carbon emissions, takes on the role of “opening the freezer door on the Arctic and letting all the cold air pour out,” in the words of Professor Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University.

Former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement threatened detrimental effects on the environment in terms of global warming. The Paris Agreement ensures that each participating nation will actively work to cut their carbon emissions. Luckily, the Biden Administration has officially rejoined the Agreement and promises to work toward cleaner energy usage.

The question now is: are we ready to handle more frequent “freezer door openings?” Looking to the catastrophe in Texas, the future does not look promising.