Sub-zero temperatures fell across Europe during the month of February, with unprecedented amounts of snow falling in Prague. While the city center was blanketed in snow, residents of the capital city took advantage of the extreme weather conditions to ski and sled in the local parks including Petrin and Stromovka.
Although January 2021 was the seventh warmest January on record worldwide, the extreme winter weather this February has caused many climate science deniers to take to social media and call climate change a hoax. However, this belief has been previously debunked by scientists, and climate change may have actually provoked this harsh winter weather.
The warmer atmosphere is prone to holding larger amounts of moisture causing higher amounts of precipitation to occur, and when the temperatures drop low enough it falls as snow instead. But the sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall worldwide was more likely the result of the collapse of the polar vortex.
The polar vortex is not a new phenomenon and according to the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the term was coined in 1853. The mass of cold air known as the polar vortex, swirls from east to west in the stratosphere and is responsible for sustaining frigid temperatures above the Arctic and Antarctica. At the same time, the jet stream regulates the flow of warm air to the south, and cool air to the north. An event called Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) causes the Arctic to warm some winters. This causes the winds that keep the polar vortex in place to slow, or change directions. Hence, the polar vortex falls and the cold air from the Arctic plunges into the mid-latitudes.
Climate change has caused the Arctic regions to warm two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. Scientists have linked this to the extreme winter weather across Eurasia and North America which has increased over the past 20 years.
While the heavy snowfall was well-received by many Prague residents, these extreme weather events are disrupting lives of those living in the Northern Hemisphere like never before. The link between warming arctic temperatures and harsher winters farther south is disputed among climate scientists since their models have shown little evidence of this link. However, their models have not accurately predicted the magnitude of Arctic warming either. Climate scientists may have missed an important link, but whatever the case, a warming climate is impacting the world on an unimaginable scale– including record snowfall here in Prague.