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.
Page last updated: February 2014
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