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Balmy Christmas: Climate Change or Weather?

If you live in Northeast America, you might have seen a blossoming cherry tree or a blooming viburnum a few days ago. Yes, the tropical temperatures broke records from Florida to Canada, evoking claims that 2015 was the warmest December and Christmas ever. But does climate change have anything to do with the warm weather?

Experts say not really. They point to the weather pattern of this year’s strong El Niño, and to the polar vortex, while giving only a slight nod to climate change. We found interesting comments by two writers for fivethirtyeight.com: Harry Enten, who reports on forecasts and Matt Lanza, a professional meteorologist and freelance writer who is working in the energy industry in Houston. Enten attributed the normal weather patterns to El Niño, the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific. This year El Niño brought warmer temperatures to North America and at the same time pushed the jet stream father north making the wind patterns push heavy snow to places like Denver and the Northern and Central Plains. But Lanza says that the polar vortex should also be credited for the warmer temperatures, the very same polar vortex that gave us in North East America sub-zero temperatures the last two winters. But now the polar vortex is whirling around the top of the planet trapping cold arctic air and preventing it from traveling south.

And climate change? Both Lanza and Enten suggest that future studies could indicate that “climate change exacerbates already occurring phenomena.”

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