Links between cold waves and rising temperatures ?

Links between cold waves and rising temperatures ?

Last February, a major cold wave, including snowfall, hit the world’s surface. The United States were heavily impacted, with low temperature records of up to -20 degrees in Texas. However, this global cold wave may be hiding a major problem : accelerating climate change

Cold and snowy weather records for the start of the year 

It’s no secret that climate change is having an impact on temperatures, as well as the weather, all over the globe. February has demonstrated numerous snow events and record cold spells around the world.

Firstly within a month, taking the example of the United States, the snow-covered area increased from 29% to around 70%.

Accustomed to mild temperatures, Texans faced temperatures as low as -12°C in their Austin capital. Compared to the average low for February in Austin (7.2°C) and even compared to the same time in Anchorage, Alaska (-7°C), this is a real dip in February temperatures.

In addition to the numerous power outages that have paralysed the country, the damage has been measured in human and environmental terms.

These extreme conditions have led to the formation of at least four tornadoes, according to the specialised website, one of which struck in the middle of the night in the south-eastern United States, in North Carolina, killing three people and injuring ten.

In total, some 3.5 million homes in the United States were without power, and these cold spells cost the lives of around 30 people.

In Europe, and more specifically in Greece, heavy snowfalls disrupted the daily life of the population.

Although snow is not uncommon in Greece and even in Athens, occurring on average twice a winter for the capital, this time it was one of the heaviest snowfalls for 10 years. Temperatures still dropped to -20°C in the mountains of northern Greece (non-record) and -7°C in the Peloponnese (southern Greece), which is more rare.

Finally, many homes were left without electricity in the country, and the human toll was four deaths.

Is human the only victim ?

These sad temperature records affect humans as well as wildlife.

The February episodes in the United States affected certain marine and terrestrial species in particular.

For example, thousands of sea turtles, paralysed by the water temperature, were stranded in southern Texas, as the temperature did not allow them to follow their “usual routes”. Some 4,700 turtles were rescued by volunteers, disclaimed by Reuters. Thanks to these volunteers, the thousands of animals were taken to a convention centre to warm them up before being released once the weather turned warmer.

Laws have also been put in place for pets, such as in Texas, prohibiting owners from leaving their cars if temperatures were lower than 0 degree.

(For more on the impact of Covid’s measures on wildlife, see our previous article :

Increasing temperatures for several decades

Even though February temperatures were extremely low in many parts of the world, as they had been in the past, measurements show strong increases in average temperatures over the past decades, especially in Switzerland. These cold spells are mostly the result of changes in air variations (hot/cold), creating major temperature shifts, which can be extremely variable in a short period of time.

With an average deviation of +2.5°C from the pre-industrial reference period 1871-1900, the last decade has been the warmest in the country.

The six warmest years since measurements began in 1864 have all occurred in the last decade. The years 2018 and 2020 were the two warmest, with a deviation of 3.0°C from the pre-industrial period as a reference. They are followed by 2015, 2011, 2014 and 2019. The remaining years 2012, 2016 and 2017 are also among the 20 warmest years since measurements began in 1864, the only exception being 2013.

In addition, the climate in the Alpine region is warming more strongly than the global average, making Switzerland even more affected by climate change. (Meteo Suisse)

Climate scenarios seem to predict increasing warming. The extent of this phenomenon over the next few centuries will depend largely on whether or not climate protection measures are implemented on a global scale, but also on everyday actions. In the immediate future and in the decades to come, adaptation to new climates is probably already on the agenda.


Baptiste Guillemin


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