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February 16, 2021

Classroom Resource: Is the recent wave of severe weather across the U.S. a harbinger for climate change?


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video featuring reporting by Amna Nawaz and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript of the video above, click here

Summary: The winter of 2021 is writing itself into the record books this week, with large swaths of the nation seeing the coldest weather in memory. But is this a particularly severe phase of winter weather or is there more to it than that?

  • This week, ice and winter storms have affected up to 150 million Americans, including in regions not typically hit hard by winter weather, such as Texas. In Texas, millions have lost power and face subzero windchills.
  • While some might argue that the warming that comes with climate change ought to make winters milder, climate scientists point out that climate change can lead to extreme swings in weather. For instance, warming can lead to unstable polar vortex events that bring arctic air far to the south, which may be happening this week.
  1. Have your students identify the 5Ws and an H:
    • Who is affected by winter storms this year that usually isn’t?
    • What are some of the other major weather events of the past year?
    • When and where is this happening?
    • Why do some experts think climate change is exacerbating storms?
    • How does climate change potentially contribute to cold winter weather?

Then have students share with the class or through a Learning Management System (LMS).

2. Focus question: What evidence is there that climate change has contributed to the severity of weather in the past year?

3. Media literacy: What information would you want to appear in a news story about a natural disaster such as winter storms to help you assess whether or not that disaster can be linked to climate change?

Dig deeper:

  • Want to understand how climate change might actually lead to colder winter weather in places that don’t normally experience it? Check out this guide on the polar vortex and climate change from UC Davis.
  • What other evidence is there that climate change is contributing to disasters and extreme weather such as wildfires and storms? Watch the video below and write down all the evidence provided by the host and interviewees that climate change might be a contributing factor to the spread of fires.

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