Did climate change cause Texas’ winter storm disaster?

Snow covers the University Center and surrounding buildings Feb. 16 after a winter storm in Arlington.

With climate change becoming a growing discussion globally, some believe it was a factor in last month’s winter storm, which brought freezing temperatures to the entire state. 

Arne Winguth, earth and environmental sciences chairperson, said the winter storm was an interesting meteorological phenomena. This type of storm has been described in literature since 1952 as “sudden stratospheric warming.” 

Winguth said temperatures in Texas have a natural variability, reaching a minimum of minus two degrees. The temperature itself is not so much an anomaly, but the duration was quite unique, he said. 

With the world transitioning into a warmer climate, as suggested by observation and climate models, Winguth said he believes we’ll see a storm like this again someday. 

Kit Wilson, environmental science and German senior, also believes climate change was a factor in the winter storm. 

The rising global temperatures are throwing off the ecosystem and climate balance that’s been in effect for hundreds of years, she said. As a result, weather patterns are going to change. 

With climate change comes an increase in natural disasters like the winter storm Texas experienced, Wilson said. 

The polar vortex became weaker because the planet’s higher temperatures made the air around the poles warmer, too, she said. Normally hot and cold air would be battling and regulating, but now the temperatures are uneven. 

“Instead of being this nice, circling crown at the top, you get big dips,” Wilson said. “What probably caused the storm that came to Texas was one of those giant dips coming down over North America.” 

Matt Bishop, National Weather Service meteorologist, said that he doesn’t think the winter storm resulted from climate change. 

We’re currently experiencing a La Niña year, so the weather is in a state where the southeast is warmer than usual in the winter but more susceptible to extreme bouts of cold, Bishop said.  

This is because in La Niña years, the oceans are cooler than normal, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association. A La Niña or El Niño year occurs on average every three to five years, but there’s some room for variation. 

The jury’s still out on whether these years are affected by climate change, according to the association. They can’t identify the fingerprint of global warming if they don’t know what natural variabilities can occur first. 

Hanan Boukhaima, urban planning and public policy doctoral student, said she thinks this type of storm will happen again in the next few years and faster than people might expect. 

Even if people don’t believe in climate change, they should still be ready for it, Boukhaima said. Having solar panels and batteries handy are some of the ways people can prepare for the possibility of another storm. 

“On the individual level, people can be prepared without having to rely completely on their government, either local government or state,” she said. 

@JMarieFarmer84

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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