Snowstorm and frigid weather: Historic event or climate change?
The coldest day on record for Shreveport dates back 100-plus years.
Set Feb.12, 1899, temperatures on that historic day were 5 degrees below zero. The following day, Feb. 13, 1899, 3 degrees below zero marked the second-coldest day on record, according to Matt Hemingway, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Shreveport.
When asked if he could attribute this recent Arctic blast to “global warming” or “climate change,” Hemingway said, “Because we’ve had these record cold temperatures way back in 1800, we do not attribute this Artic blast to climate change."
Shreveport this past week experienced single-digit temperatures.
The very strong Arctic cold air surges managed to break off and spread down across parts of the United States, pushing directly south across the mid-section of the country.
“More recently, the first time we saw single-digit temperatures as we experienced during the week of the winter storms, you have to go back to the 1980s,” Hemingway said. “We had winters that were extremely cold that decade. The one in 1983 was the first one of the 1980s that probably rivaled this particular really cold stretch that we’re having and that was the year parts of the Red River actually froze from bank to bank.”
Cross Lake also froze, especially around the edges of the lake.
“That was around Christmas of 1983,” Hemingway said. “We had another really cold winter in 1989 as well, and that one also resulted in single-digit temperatures and was also around Christmas, in 1989.”
Hemingway looked back farther to the winter of Jan. 8 and 9, 1886.
"We got down to 1 degree which is exactly the same temperature we were this (Tuesday) morning,” Hemingway said. “So, this goes back almost (140) years. And then Jan. 9, 1886, we got down to three degrees. Usually, when we get these arctic surges, we usually see consecutive nights of very, very cold temperatures.”
Is it possible to predict what to expect in terms of winter weather next year? Hemingway said, there’s really no skill involved in a forecast that far out.
“There are some factors that we look at that sometimes will help us to have a general idea,” Hemingway said. “We look at different patterns involving El Nino and La Nina, (climate patterns that can affect weather worldwide). From what I’ve mentioned previously, you don’t usually see these kinds of back-to-back winters. They are more spaced out.”
As for his thoughts on climate change, Hemingway said as a meteorologist, “We really don’t get into all the different thoughts and ideas on that. But that’s not to say, we don’t have thoughts and ideas about it.”
The area will probably continue to see the Arctic air events every so often, Hemingway added.
“Usually they are few and far between but history tells us it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility to see temperatures this cold in this part of the country,” Hemingway said. “All you have to do is look back historically. That’s why we maintain climate data so that we can go back and compare so we have a better idea about how often these types of things occur.”
So, what exactly is climate change?
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) describes climate change as a change in the usual weather found in a place. This could be a change in how much rain a place usually gets in a year or it could be a change in the usual temperature for a month or season.
Climate change, according to NASA, is also a change in Earth's usual temperature, changes where rain and snow usually fall on Earth.
While the subject for some is debatable, the question has been asked as to what is causing Earth's climate to change?
A lot of things, according to NASA, can cause the climate to change on its own. Earth's distance from the sun can change. The sun can send out more or less energy, oceans can change.
Some scientists say that humans can change climate also by driving cars, heating and cooling their houses, cooking food. All those things take energy, burning coal, oil, and gas, which puts gases into the air. The gases cause the air to heat up, according to NASA.
Any discussion of extremely cold temperatures would have to include what’s called the polar vortex, a gigantic circular upper-air weather pattern in the Arctic that envelops the North Pole, as explained in a Feb.18 USA Today story by Doyle Rice.
“It's a normal, natural pattern that is stronger in the winter and tends to keep the coldest weather bottled up near the North Pole,'' Rice wrote. “The jet stream usually pens the polar vortex in and keeps it there, but at times, some of the vortex can break off or move south, bringing extremely cold weather down into the U.S., Europe, and Asia.''
Some scientists – but not all – say there could be a connection between global warming and the wandering polar vortex.
University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd told Rice, “There is evidence that climate change can weaken the polar vortex, which allows more chances for frigid Arctic air to ooze into the Lower 48.''
Here's a look at the top seven coldest days in Shreveport area history.
-5 degrees on Feb. 12, 1899
-3 degrees on Feb. 13, 1899
-2 degrees on Jan. 18, 1930
1 degree on Jan. 8, 1886
1 degree on Feb. 16, 2021
2 degrees on Jan. 12, 1918
2 degrees on Feb. 2, 1951