11. If the world is warming, why are some winters and summers still very cold?

Global warming is a long-term trend, but that does not mean that every year will be warmer than the previous one. Day to day and year to year changes in weather patterns will continue to produce some unusually cold days and nights, and winters and summers, even as the climate warms.

Climate change means not only changes in globally averaged surface temperature, but also changes in atmospheric circulation, in the size and patterns of natural climate variations, and in local weather. La Niña events shift weather patterns so that some regions are made wetter, and wet summers are generally cooler. Stronger winds from polar regions can contribute to an occasional colder winter. In a similar way, the persistence of one phase of an atmospheric circulation pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation has contributed to several recent cold winters in Europe, eastern North America, and northern Asia.

Atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns will evolve as Earth warms and will influence storm tracks and many other aspects of the weather. Global warming tilts the odds in favour of more warm days and seasons and fewer cold days and seasons. For example, across the continental United States in the 1960s there were more daily record low temperatures than record highs, but in the 2000s there were more than twice as many record highs as record lows. Another important example of tilting the odds is that over recent decades heatwaves have increased in frequency in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. 

Questions and answers

Read short summary answers

1. Is the climate warming?
2. How do scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities?
3. CO2 is already in the atmosphere naturally, so why are emissions from human activity significant?
4. What role has the Sun played in climate change in recent decades?
5. What do changes in the vertical structure of atmospheric temperature – from the surface up to the stratosphere - tell us about the causes of recent climate change?
6. Climate is always changing. Why is climate change of concern now?
7. Is the current level of atmospheric CO2 concentration unprecedented in Earth’s history?
8. Is there a point at which adding more CO2 will not cause further warming?
9. Does the rate of warming vary from one decade to another?
10. Does the recent slowdown of warming mean that climate change is no longer happening?
11. If the world is warming, why are some winters and summers still very cold?
12. Why is Arctic sea ice reducing while Antarctic sea ice is not?
13. How does climate change affect the strength and frequency of floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes?
14. How fast is sea level rising?
15. What is ocean acidification and why does it matter?
16. How confident are scientists that Earth will warm further over the coming century?
17. Are climate changes of a few degrees a cause for concern?
18. What are scientists doing to address key uncertainties in our understanding of the climate system?
19. Are disaster scenarios about tipping points like ‘turning off the Gulf Stream’ and release of methane from the Arctic a cause for concern?
20. If emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped, would the climate return to the conditions of 200 years ago?

Your questions

In addition to the 20 key questions answered in 'Climate Change: Evidence & Causes', we asked for your questions about the science of climate change on Google Moderator.

View all questions and our responses.

Download the answers (PDF).