The Northern Hemisphere is in the depths of winter at the moment, with February usually the coldest month for the United States.
But over the weekend, the city of Mangum, Oklahoma, hit temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) – way above the average February high of 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) for the region.
“Mangum, Oklahoma broke a daily record when the thermometer hit 99 degrees on Saturday,” Nicholas Kusnetz reports for Insider Climate News.
“Last week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an emergency burn ban in response to the extreme weather, but a grass fire broke out anyway in Oklahoma City, prompting authorities to ask some residents to leave their homes.”
But is it really that simple?
The reality is that scientists can’t say for sure what causes these weather anomalies – one-off events are hard to pin down.
But what they do know is that climate change is definitely happening at an unprecedented rate. And that these types of extreme weather events – both hot and cold – are becoming far more common around the world.
Last week, Australia suffered through an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures west of Sydney topping 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) on Saturday.
And, even more worrying, the Arctic had its temperatures soar above average for the third time in the past few months. At the end of last year, temperatures around the North Pole were more than 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) above average, according to data from the Danish Meteorological Institute.
The coverage of the polar ice cap is also at a record low for January out of the 38 years that the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre has been collecting satellite data.
When researchers compare January this year to last year, the North Pole has lost a Wyoming-sized area of ice.
“I’ve been looking at Arctic weather and climate for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like the warming conditions we’ve been seeing this winter,” director of National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Mark Serreze, told Inside Climate News.
It’s still not clear exactly why the Arctic is so unseasonably warm. But scientists have suggested that climate change could be bringing more warm air up north.
On the flip-side, having open patches of open, rather than frozen, reflective ice caps increases water temperatures further, creating a warming feedback loop. The Arctic is already warming at twice the global average.
At the end of last year, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration released its annual Arctic Report Card, which warned that if the extreme warming of recent years continues, the entire region could experience a dramatic climate shift.
While we wait for policy makers to continue encouraging greenhouse gas reductions, all we can do is brace ourselves for more weird and unpredictable weather to come.
“Over the last year, the United States has seen more than four times as many record high temperatures as record lows, Jeremy Deaton reported for Nexus Media this week. “The heat in Oklahoma is just the latest example.”
In the meantime, a group of scientists also have come up with a US$500 billion a year back-up plan – putting in a series of wind-powered pumps to bring seawater onto the ice’s surface, to thicken up the ice cap.
It’s pretty out-there, but if the current warming trends continue, we might not have a choice.
Stay safe out there in the weird weather, guys.