As everyone has noticed, the U.S. is experiencing a bit of a warm spell this Christmas season with some — of course! — blaming the nice weather on global warming. Twitchy regular Eric Boehlert, for example:

But not so fast, Eric! Maybe the disciples of Gaia should actually consult with a scientist before speaking up. The current warm weather is caused by the “Arctic Oscillation,” kind of the opposite of last year’s “polar vortex” that brought freezing temperatures to the U.S. And according to NOAA, global warming has an “insignificant role, if any role at all” in affecting the warm temperatures we’re experiencing right now.

From Mike Halpert, NOAA’s deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, on what’s really going on:

SHAPIRO: Well, then, the next question is, why?

HALPERT: There’s a couple of factors at play here. I think everybody’s well aware that we have a strong El Nino that’s kind of started back last spring, and El Nino is known to exert a pattern that oftentimes favors warmer-than-average temperatures. There’s another factor that seems to maybe have been playing even a larger role over the last four to six weeks. It’s something that we call the Arctic oscillation.

SHAPIRO: Explain what the Arctic oscillation is. We don’t hear as much about that as we do about El Nino.

HALPERT: Yeah. It’s an atmospheric pattern, and it relates basically the pressures at the polar regions to the pressures in the mid-latitudes where we live. It becomes much more newsworthy, typically, when we’re very cold here because that’s associated with the negative phase of the Arctic oscillation oftentimes. And what that means, is that the polar vortex, which may be surprising to some but not to a meteorologist – the polar vortex, which is located around the pole, weakens and allows cold air to spill out. This year, we’re seeing the opposite. So we’ve had a strong polar vortex, and it’s cold up at the polls but not really anywhere else.

SHAPIRO: OK. So El Nino plays a roll. The Arctic oscillation plays a role. What about climate change? Is that playing a role?

HALPERT: If it is, it’s probably fairly insignificant at this point. If it were to play a role, it would be more likely if, somehow, climate change is impacting either the Arctic oscillation or El Nino, and we’re not really aware that it is at this point. If you think about, maybe – the high temperature over the weekend was 70, so maybe without climate change, it would’ve been 69. I think it’s a fairly insignificant role, if any role at all.

Settled science at work:

And there’s even some good news to report. California’s snow pack is making a nice recovery, even with the warmer weather thanks to the El Nino:


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