“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Three weeks ago, a major cold snap and series of winter storms enveloped the southern plains and parts of the Mississippi River Valley, sending temperatures below zero as far south as central Texas. According to NOAA NCEI, a total of 8,632 daily record low temperatures — including both maximums and minimums — were set or tied from February 10-20, as opposed to only 262 daily warm records.¹ Additionally, a whopping 693 monthly record lows were set, 199 of which were all-time record lows. According to the NOAA Weather Prediction Center, over 30% of all of the official weather stations in the United States set at least record low maximum temperatures between February 14 and 16. Without a doubt, this was the coldest 10-day period that this part of the country had experienced in over a century. The animation below conveys just how widespread the cold was between February 10 and 20 (Figure 1).²
While no statewide records were broken, some of the records that were reported were quite shocking to say the least. The two coldest days were Monday, February 15 and Tuesday, February 16, where temperatures were some 40-50°F below average across Oklahoma and Texas. Between February 11 and 18, temperatures across much of the Heartland averaged some 30°F below average (Figure 2).³ Temperatures this cold for such a sustained period can lower the monthly and seasonal average by a wide margin.
On Monday, February 15, Oklahoma City only rose to 4°F (-15.6°C), which was colder than the daily record low of 7°F (-13.9°C) set in 1909!⁴ San Angelo, Texas dipped to a bone-chilling -1°F (-18.3°C), which tied with December 29, 1983 and February 2, 1985 for the city’s second coldest temperature, only behind the reading of -4°F (-20°C) set on December 23, 1989.⁴ That was also the only subzero reading for the date, smashing the old record of 16°F (-8.9°C) from 1909.⁴ Houston, Texas dipped to 16°F on Monday the 15, which was their coldest temperature since December 24, 1989, when it plunged to 11°F (-11.7°C).⁴ That also broke the old daily record of 18°F (-7.8°C) from 1918.⁴ Kansas City, Missouri plunged down to -10°F (-23.3°C), breaking the old record of -6°F (-21.1°C) from 1936, while the high of -1°F smashed the old record of 8°F (-13.3°C) from 1900.⁴ According to the local National Weather Service office, a wind chill of -32°F (-35.6°C) was recorded, the coldest wind chill there since 1989.
The following morning, Tuesday, February 16, even more notable record lows were set. Oklahoma City once again set a record low, this time falling to a jaw-dropping -14°F (-25.6°C), which not only obliterated the old daily record of 4°F (-15.6°C) set in 1903, it was the coldest reading there in over 120 years, only second to the -17°F (-27.2°C) recorded on February 12, 1899.⁴ Oklahoma City also recorded its longest stretch of temperatures at or below 20°F (-6.7°C), at 210 consecutive hours, surpassing 1983.³ Meanwhile, Tulsa dropped to -13°F (-25°C), tying the city’s coldest temperature on record, originally set on January 12, 1918.⁴ Dallas, Texas even dipped to -2°F (-18.9°C), which matched January 31, 1949 for the second coldest temperature ever recorded there, just behind February 12, 1899, when it dipped to a bone-chilling -8°F (-22.2°C).⁴ Tyler, Texas broke their all-time coldest temperature of -3°F (-19.4°C) from January 18, 1930, dipping to six below zero.⁴ Hastings, Nebraska tied their all-time coldest temperature of -30°F (-34.4°C), originally set on January 12, 1912.⁴ It also obliterated the old daily record low of -13°F set in 1979.⁴ In Arkansas, Fayetteville fell to -20°F (-28.9°C), which not only anihilated the old record of 7°F from both 1958 and 2007, it was their all-time coldest temperature, and only nine degrees short of the statewide record set on February 13, 1905 in Gravette.⁴
Perhaps the most impressive record that was set was in Bottineau, North Dakota, approximately ten miles from the Canadian border. On the morning of February 13, the mercury dove to an incomprehensible -51°F (-46.1°C), which not only crushed the previous daily record of -37°F (-38.3°C) from 1936, it also broke the town’s prior all-time record low of -50°F (-45.6°C) set on February 3, 1893, a record that stood for over 128 years!⁴ This reading was only nine degrees off the statewide record, set on February 15, 1936 in Parshall.⁴ Other impressive readings were temperatures as low as minus 20° as far south as northern Texas.
Now that we have flipped the calendar to March, to really shed some light on how large of an impression the Arctic outbreak had on the monthly outcome, last month was the coldest by departure from average in the Continental United States since December 2000 (Figure 3) and third coldest since December 1989.
Major cold snaps that impact the southern plains all share similar characteristics with respect to their meteorological evolution. While the event itself was arguably predictable with moderate confidence as early as two weeks out, something my friend meteorologist Joe Bastardi over at WeatherBELL.com was very bullish — and ultimately correct — on from over ten days out, the threat for such cold became elevated within weeks following the sudden stratospheric warming event which was the primary cause of the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV) displacement.
The term polar vortex has become a part of everyday vocabulary after broadcast meteorologists and journalists began using it during the winter of 2013-14. What many people don’t know is that each hemisphere actually has two polar vorticies: the stratospheric and its tropospheric counterpart (Waugh et al. 2017).⁵
The knowledge of a stratospheric circulation has been known since the 1940s, and has been referred to as the polar vortex since at least the 1950s (e.g. Brasefield 1950, Palmer 1959).⁶ ⁷ While the tropospheric polar vortex (TPV) exists all year, the stratospheric circulation only exists from mid-late autumn through mid-late spring (keep in mind seasons are opposite, respective of which hemisphere) (e.g. Waugh et al. 2017).⁵ It forms as thermal gradients tighten between the mid-latitudes and poles, which occurs due to a lack of solar heating (e.g. Waugh et al. 2017).⁵ As the air becomes colder, the temperature difference (gradient) between the poles and mid-latitudes increases, which causes westerly winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere to begin cranking in an attempt to balance the energy differences.
The SPV is generally circular and fairly symmetrical in nature, unlike the TPV. This is because land-sea contrasts and topographic influences aren’t as pronounced in the stratosphere. The TPV, like its stratospheric counterpart, is strongest during the winter and is weakest during summer and exists due to thermal gradients (e.g. Waugh et al. 2017).⁵ Planetary Rossby waves, which form in highly baroclinic environments, if strong enough, can affect the symmetry and structure of the SPV (e.g. Waugh et al. 2017).⁵ Rossby waves strong enough to propagate upward into the stratosphere and cause a deceleration or even reversal in the westerlies typically form as air flows over mountains and rough terrain (e.g. Charney and Drazin 1961 and Limpasuvan et al. 2004).⁸ ⁹ Deceleration or reversal in the westerlies surrounding the polar vortex often initiate a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event, which can cause the polar vortex to either be displaced or even split into two or three vortices. If either of those two things occur, that energy propagates down into the troposphere and subsequently causes the TPV to do the same.
You can see the distinct differences between the two vortices in the schematic diagram below from Figure 1 in Waugh et al. 2017 (Figure 4).
Sudden stratospheric warming events, by and large, occur much more frequently in the Northern Hemisphere than in the southern, simply because there is more land-sea contrasts and mountainous terrain in North America than in Antarctica. In fact, there have been only two documented occurrences of it occurring over Antarctica; once in 2002 and more recently in 2019. While major stratospheric warming events don’t occur every year, it is not uncommon for them to occur every 2-3 years.
As I mentioned above, we did observe a sudden stratospheric warming event back in early January. As early as mid-December, I highlighted this as something that could very likely occur in early January. A time-based vertical cross-section of atmospheric temperature anomalies from the surface to the very top of the atmosphere averaged along 60°-90°N latitude is shown below (Figure 5). Time is on the x-axis while air pressure (hPa) is plotted along the y-axis alongside height in altitude (km). Pressure levels are plotted because air pressure decreases exponentially with altitude. 1000 hPa of air pressure, for instance, is on average, found at the surface and an average air pressure of 500 hPa is found at approximately 5.4 km. The shaded areas within the plot are temperature anomalies with respect to time and altitude. The early January warming in the stratosphere is clearly visible on the far upper left, as denoted by the deep orange and red shading, and as time progresses, that energy transfers down to the mid-levels of the atmosphere and surface, which reinforced the already-existing high-latitude blocking pattern, which then caused the TPV to become displaced into Eurasia in mid-late January.
While not all sudden stratospheric warming events cause a disruption to both the stratospheric and tropospheric polar vortices, there is an enhanced risk for severe cold air outbreaks in the mid-latitudes beginning around two weeks after the event if it does. In mid-January, many weather enthusiasts and meteorologists declared winter to be a bust, yet I alerted my followers that it may take an additional 2-4 weeks before we begin to see the effects of the TPV displacement into Eurasia here in the United States. Typically, but not always, when a split or displacement favors Europe initially, that cold air will come into North America later in the winter, which is why I highlighted late-January through mid-February as a prime time for winter to make a roaring comeback.
However, in order to get that cold air into North America and down into the Lower 48, there needs to be cross-polar flow. Cross-polar flow occurs when an area of higher heights known as a ridge builds in over Alaska, which causes the jet stream to meander around the ridge over Alaska, through the Arctic, then dip south into North America bringing with it true Arctic air out of Siberia.
Since Arctic air masses are very cold, they are also very dense. Cold air is denser than warm air, which causes it to sink to the surface. This greater mass of air at the surface creates a surface anticyclone with an upper level low aloft; this is also known as a cold core high (Figure 6).¹⁰ Because cold air contracts and is dense, thickness values between height contours are far lower than in warm air masses associated with warm core highs (ridges). High pressure systems, regardless of their nature, are associated with little to no wind at the surface as air diverges away from the center. This lack of wind prevents mixing of air, which allows temperatures to either be extremely cold or extremely hot. This tidbit of information will be useful later. . .
Throughout much of January, jet stream flow was very progressive and zonal over the North Pacific. This was largely due to La Niña. Progressive flow over the North Pacific inhibits upper level convergence over the West Coast of North America from developing a ridge to slow down the flow and change the jet stream configuration. As a result, the entire continent was flooded with mild Pacific air. However, by mid-February, changes were a comin’.
The evolution of the recent cold snap was very similar to the setups which caused other historical cold spells across the southern plains (Figure 7). For purposes of this article, we’re going to make a comparison to the deep freezes of December 1983, February 1985, and December 1989. Shown below from left to right in chronological order are the synoptic scale setups for each outbreak, with the recently expired one on the far right. The top panel conveys 500 mb heights on the day leading up the beginning of the Arctic outbreaks, while the bottom panel conveys surface mean sea-level air pressure (MSLP). As clearly shown in each picture in the top panel, a ridge developed in the jet stream (denoted by the black H) over Alaska. Some ridging over Northern Canada forced the tropospheric polar vortex (TPV) south into the Prairies bringing with it very cold air. The upper level low associated with the TPV means that there is a cold core high at the surface. As the TPV rotated about itself, the Arctic surface anticyclone dived south into the Rockies and Heartland before migrating south into Lone Star country. This go-round, several low pressure areas that developed along the cold front dropped considerable amounts of snow and freezing rain across Texas in the span of ten days.
The Texas Energy Disaster
Incredibly cold air combined with snowfall and freezing rain impacting regions that infrequently observe such conditions can only lead to disaster to the energy grid and infrastructure only built to local building codes, especially if a significant percentage of that energy is supplied by unsustainable sources. This is exactly what occurred in Texas three weeks ago. The majority of businesses, schools, places of worship, and homes there are built to be resilient to incredibly hot summertime temperatures that engulf the state in a bake fest, not winter storms and extremely cold temperatures.
To vividly describe all of the damage to infrastructure and to tally the loss of life and property would be essentially impossible. Both the major winter storm and Arctic outbreak cost $195 billion in damage topping Hurricanes Harvey for the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. As the cold settled in and the energy grid collapsed, pipes inside homes and businesses froze, contracted, and burst to release pressure, flooding buildings with insane amounts of water. Many of those who couldn’t venture elsewhere to seek warmth literally froze to death in their homes.
As usual, trying to have a coherent discussion with someone about what actually happened using science, common sense, and logical reasoning is quite the challenge. You can’t get a single word in without someone viewing the issue through their political ideology lenses. Democrats are blaming climate change (more on that nonsense later) and shortages in natural gas, while Republicans blame the loss of renewable wind power on the crisis. While there is some truth to both, it is a complex issue and there isn’t blame to place on any specific person or thing. So, what actually happened to cause the energy grid to fail?
The first thing we need to look at is what the main sources of energy are in Texas. According to last year’s ECROT Texas Fuel Mix Report (Figure 8), wind energy accounts for 23%, overtaking coal as the second most prominent energy source within the state.¹¹ Natural gas is still the largest source of energy in Texas, comprising 46% of the grid.¹¹ Progressive politicians in Texas have been encouraging the development of wind turbines across the western half of the state as well as along the Gulf Coast for years. As such, wind power is the fastest-growing source of energy in Texas, as it has risen from accounting for 11% of the state’s energy supply in 2015 to 25% so far so far in 2021.¹¹ The ever-increasing reliance on wind energy means that there is steadily less demand from fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and nuclear with each passing year.
The push for wind energy ultimately has nothing to do with wind energy being cleaner, rather it’s because the renewable energy industry is being used by the government to take in billions of dollars in taxpayer money annually. In Texas alone, both the local and federal government combined has collected over $80 billion in solar and wind subsidies over the last 15 years.¹² Like the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry should be able to mostly thrive on its own without taxpayer money, but that’s if it were affordable, reliable, and efficient on a large scale. Without tax dollars going towards subsidies by means of, to put it honestly, government theft, the wind industry in Texas would be miniscule compared to the 23-25% it currently supplies to the state.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what happened in Texas. . .
On Tuesday, February 9, temperatures began to plummet across northern and western Texas, and as the temperature cooled to the dew point at the surface, condensation formed on various surfaces, including the turbine blades. As temperatures continued to drop like a brick, the condensation froze, particularly on the leading edges of the blades, which are specifically designed to direct wind around the blades allowing them to spin. When covered with thick coatings of ice, the blades become significantly heavier and there isn’t enough lift to spin them. Nearly half of Texas’ wind energy supply went offline as a result. This would’ve been much more disastrous if the heavy snow and freezing rain had impacted that part of the state.
Some Republican congressmen and commentators were making the claim that the cold weather itself caused the turbines to come to a halt, but this is only partially true. Wind turbines operate just fine in climatologically cold and dry regions like North Dakota, the Arctic, and even in Antarctica. However, when cold air moves in behind a cold front, that Arctic air is associated with a cold core high pressure system, which as discussed earlier, means there is very little wind. So, while ice accretion on the turbine blades caused the turbines to fail, they would have anyways regardless.
As wind energy began to fail on February 9, natural gas backup generators located all around the state kicked in almost instantaneously. You can easily see this on the graph below from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (Figure 9). As wind energy buckled (green line), natural gas (light brown line) consequently shot up like a rocket to pick up slack.¹³ Natural gas is a very useful backup source of energy, backups of which are a requirement for any renewable source given intermittency in solar and wind output. It can be easily generated based on demand and delivered to homes, schools, and businesses by pipeline. This is far different than coal or nuclear energy, which, while there is a lot of fuel on site, take time to generate significant output.
Demand for natural gas far exceeded the 67 gigawatts ECROT anticipated back in November, meaning that they had to implement rolling blackouts to reduce the demand and avoid a complete blackout of the energy grid by February 14 as the coldest air set in.¹⁴ One of the major fallouts, however, is that natural gas plants don’t have a lot of energy on site. Thanks to the frigid temperatures and snow, the wells closed up and gathering lines froze due to a lack of insulation around them, while the pumps stopped working due to power outages, inhibiting the gas from reaching the Earth’s surface that could then be supplied to the plants by pipeline.¹⁴
So, in summary, a lack of preparedness with regards to infrastructure and a chain of reactions beginning with the failure of wind energy are to blame for this disaster. The push for wind energy by progressives has led to an unbalanced mix of power generation across the state. Prior to February 9, wind energy was producing an average of 15-20 gigawatts of energy while natural gas only accounted for approximately 5-10 gigawatts. This, in theory is fine. However, renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels, only works intermittently. This is why natural gas is a great backup source. However, natural gas is only supply on demand, which also makes it vulnerable to poor weather conditions.
Coal and nuclear energy, while they take time to generate output, have a base load of fuel on site available for weeks or even months at a time, which makes them very useful during natural disasters. Coal may not be the cleanest source of energy environmentally, but when it comes to a life and death situation, the environment isn’t really that important.
Climate Change: Did It Play a Role or Not?
Only adding to the confusion, a large number of media outlets have been running headlines using convoluted logic to explain how the cold air outbreak and winter storms which pounded portions of the southern plains and Mississippi River Valley causing billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure and power grid failure was an indication or even outright result of man-made global warming. Intuitively, these assertions make zero sense, and they don’t withstand physical reasoning either.
These days, it seems like no matter what the weather does, someone makes an attempt to blame it on man-made climate change. This has become a commonplace in the mainstream news media, particularly within the last five years, and has disturbingly been perpetuated by a few atmospheric scientists with large public platforms. Scientists who have large social media followings play a very important role in science communication; it’s their job to communicate science as clearly and as effectively as possible, especially when there are large discrepancies between the headlines journalists spin up and what peer-reviewed papers actually suggest. Unfortunately, many scientists refuse to call out misinformation in the media simply because it hurts the cause for climate action. In other words, many prominent scientific voices are just political activists hiding behind the mask of a competent scientist.
The very first thing I should point out is that climate change does not cause extreme weather — or any weather, for that matter — to occur. In fact, extreme weather is well. . . normal. Climate change activists have this wild perception that the weather should be exactly average, and that it always used to be that way until humans screwed up the weather; this point of view is probably a result of the news media constantly emphasizing averages and normals in their reporting. Weather is rarely average. Given that the majority of weather stations, particularly those within the United States, have periods of records spanning more than a century, it can be expected that on occasion, any given location will experience a weather event it hasn’t experienced before. It is not uncommon for both record high or record low temperatures to be set.
Weather and climate are related, but are two separate topics. Weather describes atmospheric conditions here and now. Climate, on the other hand, is a compilation of a wide array of statistics that describe long-term atmospheric conditions for any given location, region, or even the entire planet; this includes everything from averages and distributions to frequencies and extremes. Climate is typically justified over a 30-year period, at minimum. Individual weather events, whether it be extreme heat, extreme cold, a hurricane, tornado, flood, drought, or wildfire, tell us nothing remotely useful about any given location’s climate, let alone any climatic changes that may or may not be taking place. This doesn’t stop journalists from making a shoddy attempt trying to do so, however.
Before we go any further, however, let’s take a look at some indisputable facts, some of which are often ignored in these studies and especially in press coverage:
- Record cold temperatures do occur from time to time; cold waves are an expression of natural variability in Earth’s atmosphere.
- The Earth is warming in the long-term, of course, with day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year variability. The loss of sea ice in the Arctic has been a contributor to the enhanced warming trend being observed there when compared to the global average. This means that the source of cold air is where it’s warming fastest.
- The frequency of cold waves, the number of record low temperatures, and the percent of land area observing unusually cold temperatures have all declined over the last century, particularly since the late 1980s.
With those three key points in mind, let’s take a closer look at this. . .
Arctic outbreaks are expressions of natural variability in Earth’s atmosphere. For as long as we’ve had weather records, official or not, lobes of cold air associated with the tropospheric polar vortex (TPV) have broken off thanks to high-latitude blocking patterns, diving south into the mid-latitudes rotating west to east bringing with it unpleasantly cold temperatures for days or even weeks. This natural process, which was discussed earlier in detail, used to just be the weather, but like everything else these days, it’s now caused by man-made climate change.
Frigid air masses begin forming over the Arctic in autumn as the north pole tilts away from the sun. The lack of incoming shortwave radiation means that all of that energy and then some is emitted back into outer space. This results in continuous cooling of Earth’s surface until spring arrives. The colder it gets, sea ice begins to grow out. That combined with newly added snow cover results in even more cooling leading to a negative feedback loop. What results from this is the formation of a very dense, very cold air mass which not only forms the polar high at the surface, but also the polar vortex aloft.
There have been many studies which suggest that sea ice loss in the Arctic region has brought about enhanced warming there thanks to loss of albedo, known as Arctic amplification. This theory is indeed supportable by observations from satellite temperature data (Figure 11).¹⁵ Shown in the map below on the left, you can easily see the the north pole is warming at a faster rate in the lower troposphere than pretty much anywhere else in the world. When you compare the decadal trends shown on the right, the Arctic (top) is warming 0.261°C per decade faster than the global mean (bottom).¹⁵
Some scientists, in particular, Dr. Jennifer Francis (also here and here), have hypothesized that Arctic amplification, which reduces latitudinal thermal gradients, has caused planetary-scale Rossby waves to elongate as westerlies weaken, which thereby causes the jet stream to meander resulting in more frequent blocking patterns, leading to more polar vortex disruptions during the winter and therefore more frequent cold air outbreaks and extreme weather. Climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, at Texas Tech University, calls this “global weirding.” However, many scientists disagree with these assertions (see here, here, and here), as there is a lack of data to support them and it even violates global warming theory itself.
Given that the Arctic is the fastest-warming location on Earth, as discussed above, that means that our cold air supply is steadily decreasing, which means that claims about cold air outbreaks becoming more frequent due to global weirding or the jet stream being out of whack don’t hold much water. It is a thermodynamic impossibility for warming to cause colder weather. Such claims are speculative, at best.
One of the easiest ways to test this theory is to look at the frequency of cold air outbreaks. If global warming was leading to more frequent blasts of Arctic air by means of Arctic amplification, then that should be reflected in long-term station data observations. To no surprise, the number of cold snaps have decreased across the central and eastern United States since general recordkeeping began in 1895.
Two years ago, Dr. John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), formerly of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, graphed the average number of November through March cold waves across the central and eastern United States, excluding the Deep South (Figure 12).¹⁶
The criterion necessary to do this analysis, according to Dr. Christy, were as follows:
- All weather stations used had to have sufficient periods of records and little missing data. While not explicitly mentioned in the article, this tidbit is something Dr. Christy has done with many other of his analyses.
- Defining a cold wave meant that each individual station used in the analysis had to observe daily maximum temperatures over at least a two-day period between November and March, colder than the 5th percentile of that specific location’s average January daily maximum temperatures.¹⁶
- The resulting frequency of cold waves per weather station was then grouped by region and then averaged to get a good idea of cold spell frequency across the central and eastern United States since 1895.¹⁶
- While many urban sites have data spanning more than 125 years, most rural locations don’t have periods of records going back before 1895, which is probably why that starting date was chosen. For what it’s worth, NOAA NCEI also starts their graphs in 1895.
The main conclusion from this analysis shown in Figure 12 below is that there is no evidence supporting the media’s claim that cold waves are becoming more frequent in the United States thanks to man-made climate change. While there is indeed a lot of-year-to-year variability with perhaps even multidecadal cycles evident, the overall trend is notably down. With the exception of the late 1970s and 1980s, cold waves were far more prevalent during the late 19th and early 20th centuries than they are today.
Furthermore, the total number of daily record low minimum temperatures tallied up from 805 United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) stations has taken a rather steep decline since the mid-1980s (Figure 13).¹⁷ There was a similarly low period between the mid-1930s and early-1950s, but thanks to both urbanization locally and the lesser amount of cold air to work with in the Arctic, the current low period is quite a bit lower than that observed several decades ago.
If the two graphs already shown aren’t compelling enough, well, here’s a graph from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the percent of land area in the Continental United States by year experiencing unusually cold wintertime temperatures from 1911 to 2016 (Figure 14).¹⁸ While the graph is a bit dated, as government agencies seemingly never like to update anything, the long-term downward trend in land area affected is without a doubt unaffected by anything that has occurred within the last five years. The biggest exceptions to recently mild conditions were in 2009-10, 2010-11, 2013-14, and in 2014-15.
Global warming theory specifically states that as the planet warms, latitudinal thermal gradients between the Arctic and mid-latitudes weaken as the Arctic warms at a faster rate due to sea ice loss that initiates a positive feedback loop. This is where applying global warming theory is correct. However, the reduction in thermal gradients corresponds to lower amounts of baroclinic instability. Why is this important? Well, baroclinic instability is necessary for initiating extratropical cyclone development (Dacre et al. 2012 and references therein), which in fact causes a reduction in atmospheric thickness values between 500 hPa and 1000 hPa by means of cold air advection from the north and west, causing the upper level trough to deepen and elongate as shown in Figure 15 below.¹⁹ A lack of baroclinicity in a warmer climate inhibits planetary waves from elongating, exactly opposite of what is claimed by the press and even some scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis, as discussed in Blackport and Screen (2020).²⁰
Under radiative forcing by means of adding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, climate models projected that the stratosphere would cool in response to tropospheric warming through both heat retainment in the troposphere and ozone depletion in the stratosphere. Scientists touted this for decades as the undeniable human fingerprint of man-made global warming, and rightfully so, as satellite observations of lower stratospheric temperatures confirm long-term cooling since measurements began in 1979.¹⁵
In order for the polar vortex to become unstable and unleash frigid air into the mid-latitudes, the stratosphere needs to be warmer, which is what happens, albeit briefly, when sudden stratospheric warming events occur during the winter, as previously discussed in my meteorological analysis. Some fringe scientists suggest that such warming events have become more frequent in recent decades due to Arctic amplification, but both NOAA and a 2019 study suggest otherwise.
Figure 17 below is cropped from Domeisen (2019). According to the study, there has been no robust trend in the frequency of sudden stratospheric warming events both over the last 170 years through a reconstructed time series, or since the 1950s by means of reanalysis.²¹ Furthermore, Domeisen (2019) found that the lack of stratospheric warming events actually observed during the 1990s coincides with the most extreme minimum in the reconstructed time series in red.²¹
“. . . the occurrence of SSW events is estimated to have experienced decadal variability comparable or slightly weaker to today’s climate and no significant trend since 1850. The minimum in SSW occurrence in the 1990s coincides with the most extreme minimum in the reconstructed SSW time series, indicating that the 1990s may constitute the most significant absence of SSW events since 1850.”
What this likely suggests is that profound long-term stratospheric cooling in response to greenhouse forcing in the troposphere and a strong stratospheric polar vortex reduced the frequency of such events,²² contrary to claims made by other scientists.
So, the bottom line is this. Yes, when linearized, the Arctic is warming at approximately double the global average rate per decade. This is more than likely caused by melting sea ice and loss of albedo leading to a positive feedback loop. Furthermore, this Arctic amplification is reducing the latitudinal thermal gradients resulting in weaker westerly flow in the jet stream. This is where global warming theory is correct and can be applied. However, the wheels fall of the wagon when it comes to attributing invasions of Arctic air on it. Weaker westerlies do not lead to a wavier jet stream configuration and more blocking patterns, conducive for weakening the SPV. Rossby waves elongate due to baroclinicty. Strong thermal gradients at the surface cause waves of low pressure to develop, maturing into an extratropical cyclone, which then cause the upper low to deepen. Additionally, because of global warming itself, the stratosphere cools which strengthens the SPV. The SPV splits or becomes displaced under warming events, so global warming theory fails here.
The Moral of the Story
Crippling weather events should teach us important lessons about both energy policy and our level of preparedness for such conditions. Like previous Arctic outbreaks that have pummeled Texas over the years, this one was no different with respect to impacts, except for the amount of infrastructure damaged. Texas’ energy grid was unprepared for such prolonged freezing conditions combined with ice and snow.
Wind turbine blades located there aren’t winter weather resilient like they are up north. To make matters worse, wind energy comprises over 23% of Texas’ power generation, and it’s the fastest-growing energy source in the state. This has pushed the energy mix to unbalanced and unsustainable levels. Energy demand is highest during both periods of extreme cold and extreme heat, whether it be heating or cooling in demand, respectively. What progressives don’t understand, however, is that such weather conditions are associated with high pressure and very light wind speeds, which means that regardless of whether or not the turbines have ice on their blades, the turbines would stop working either way.
Natural gas is a great backup source of energy, as it’s instantaneous. However, it’s only supply on demand, and the majority of winter weather forecasts were predicting a very mild winter, which meant that supply for it was low when the cold air came rushing in during mid-February. This is why we have both coal and nuclear power plants, which have a ton of fuel on site and are great sustainable sources of energy. While coal most certainly is not the cleanest source of energy, it is certainly one of the most sustainable and affordable. Fossil fuels are essential during crises, as renewable energy only works intermittently. When it comes to a life and death situation, what would you do? Use fossil fuels to keep warm and survive, or freeze yourself to death once wind power fails in order to save the planet?
Politics thoroughly corrupted climate science over 30 years ago, but it’s now beginning to corrupt energy policy and engineering, which is a far greater problem than the former. Billionaires own large media corporations, which means they control the flow of information. Whoever controls information controls society. Journalists will do anything to make a good headline that suits the agenda. They aren’t interested in truth, if they were, they’d allow opposing voices to be heard.
To blame weather events that have occurred many times before on man-made climate change is absurd. There is no sound science that suggests climate change had anything significant to do with this Arctic outbreak or energy grid failure in Texas. Blaming climate change is just a way for Democrats to avoid the real issues at hand — both wind energy itself and a lack of poor infrastructure — and waste billions of dollars in taxpayer money towards unsustainable, unreliable, and costly wind energy. It is also the fault of senators and representatives, largely Republican in base, from passing legislation that would improve infrastructure vulnerable to poor weather conditions.
Engineers need to be the ones making the decisions on power generation, not politicians. Having sustainable power sources to generate electricity is essential for our well-being and to prevent the collapse of civilization. Destabilizing the power grid by overreliance on renewable energy goes not make Texas more resilient to natural disasters or any possible effects of climate change that could come about. As Benjamin Franklin once wisely said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
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