During Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s 2020 announcement speech in the midst of a snowstorm in Minneapolis Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted out a jab toward the senator’s statements on global warming.
“Well, it happened again,” Trump tweeted, “Amy Klobuchar announced that she is running for President, talking proudly of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like a Snowman(woman)!”
The President has used this sort of rhetoric many, many times during his time in office, suggesting that cold weather somehow disproves the scientific evidence that the planet is warming. But it doesn’t quite work that way.
Weather does not equal climate
First of all, Trump is conflating two things: weather and global climate. To put it simply, weather is the day-to-day changes in atmospheric conditions, while climate is the weather over the long run in a particular region. Global climate refers to the planet’s entire climate averaged out over time. It’s that second piece that has scientists alarmed. The past five years have been the hottest on record, according to NOAA’s 2018 global climate report.
In an explainer on the subject of weather and climate, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information points out that “when scientists talk about climate, they’re often looking at averages of precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind, and other measures of weather that occur over a long period in a particular place.”
It’s important to note that regional weather on a specific day can’t tell you that much about the global climate— i.e., a February snowstorm in Minnesota. “People also tend to confuse what is happening where they live as an indication of what is happening globally,” Marshall Shepherd, director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia and a former president of the American Meteorological Society previously noted to CNN. “It is not ‘Where You Live Warming,’ it is ‘Global Warming.’”
Global warming may lead to cold snaps
While a snowstorm in Minneapolis in early February is pretty unremarkable, the President has previously pointed to record colds in certain regions as evidence against global warming.
Some scientists, however, believe that it’s because of warming that we see more extreme colds as well.
An article from NOAA notes that some scientists think the increased temperature in the Arctic, which reduces the difference between the Arctic and the tropics, creates a “pattern [causing] storms to stall and intensify, rather than move away as they normally used to do.” This may lead to more extreme weather, including droughts, floods, cold spells, and heat waves.”
A national climate science special report from the government’s US Global Change Research Program has low confidence in this premise, noting that “the influence of arctic changes on U.S. weather over the coming decades remains an open question.”
So while we need more research to determine if global warming is causing colder temperatures in some areas in the US, what is clear is that the mere presence of a Minnesota snowstorm in February is not evidence that global warming doesn’t exist.