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A Slower Jet Stream Could Mean More Unpredictable Streaks of Extreme Temperatures

Scientific data strongly suggests that global warming is causing the jet stream to slow down, making it more unpredictable and leaving areas like Utah vulnerable to extreme heat and cold spells.


Remember that wild cold snap in Texas last month? How about those single-digit temperatures in Utah just a week ago? Well, scientists say that although global warming will likely make those unusually cold temperatures less frequent, climate change could very well be responsible for some of the most extreme cold temperatures.


Sean Sublette is a meteorologist with Climate Central and said in the case of Texas’ devastatingly cold temperatures, which hadn’t been seen since 1899, something called a sudden stratospheric warming event was to blame.


Several miles above the earth’s surface, where the air is usually extremely cold, the air can slow down enough to warm and rapidly sink below other layers of air. These types of phenomena can force a thin layer of frigid air into areas you don’t normally associate with winter, like Texas.


Sublette said even though freezing temperatures in a place like Texas could make people question global warming all together, he said that would be a mistake.


“I wouldn’t say ‘oh, look! This happened in February so the plant’s not warming,’” he said. “I wouldn’t say that at all. You could think about a baseball game or football game, one team or a pitcher or a quarterback can have a bad game, but still go on and win the championship. That’s kind of what we’re seeing here. This is kind of a hiccup in the overall warming trend of the planet.”


He said one thing that is a trend of the warming planet is as the arctic slowly gets hotter, the jet stream will likely slow down. When the jet stream slows down, he says data has strongly suggested that normal weather patterns could become more susceptible to extreme temperatures.


He said although there is strong evidence to suggest a slower jet stream will only make the effects of global warming worse, the data is not conclusive, yet.


For a state like Utah that rakes in millions of dollars each year by way of outdoor tourism, unpredictable extreme weather is something that many businesses and tourists alike would like to avoid.


KPCW news reports on climate change issues are brought to you by the Park City Climate Fund at the Park City Community Foundation, an initiative that engages Park City in implementing local, high-impact climate solutions that have potential to be effective in similar communities.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.