What to know about climate change: Does winter weather disprove global warming? (No.)

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Two terms — climate change and global warming — point to the same existential threat: Global temperatures have risen dramatically in about the past 150 years and scientists say they’re on pace to radically alter life on Earth in coming decades.

Temperatures on our planet have fluctuated based on natural processes many times in the past, but experts say this extraordinary run of warming is different.

  • Global temperatures already have risen about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since about 1850, NASA says.
  • In the past, it took roughly thousands of years for global temperatures to change that much.
  • Such rapid change is alarming and is already disrupting the delicate balance of life on Earth. 

The global warming trend comes as the human population exploded in recent centuries and technological advances spewed enormous amounts of chemicals and gases into the atmosphere. Some of them, called greenhouse gases, are excellent at trapping heat.

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Here’s what to know about climate change:

Is cold, winter weather evidence that climate change is fake?

No.

Winter doesn’t just go away because average temperatures are on the rise, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says

A single cold day, a cold snap or even a cold winter in a particular area are all examples of weather. It takes years and years of daily weather data to understand the global climate and how it is changing.

Is climate change the same thing as global warming?

Yes and no.

The terms have different meanings, although they’re often used interchangeably, according to NASA.

While the term “global warming” was used frequently in the past, the term “climate change” is used more often today because it includes the cascading consequences of rising temperatures occurring around the world — melting glaciers, rising seas, drought and more. “Global warming” refers more narrowly to the trend of rising temperatures.

What is causing climate change?

The Earth’s climate changes through a variety of natural processes, but federal scientists say the rapid warming experienced in the past 150 years is primarily caused by human activities that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

That’s why global efforts to fight climate change are so focused on eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, the most notable source of harmful greenhouse gases. 

What are 5 effects of climate change?

  1. Rising seas: Warming temperatures heat up oceans, causing water to expand, and melt huge amounts of ice. The higher sea levels aren’t just felt at the coast, but also far inland along rivers. 
  2. Drought: A “megadrought” in the West has been supercharged by warmer temperatures and a lack of rain. 
  3. Wildfires: Drought provides ideal conditions for wildfires. What’s worse: Fires release massive amounts of greenhouse gases, which fuels more climate change.
  4. Rain: A USA TODAY analysis of a century of precipitation data shows how, east of the Rockies, more rain is falling — and in more intense bursts.
  5. Hurricanes: Evidence shows climate change is causing wetter hurricanes, but scientists say more data is needed before settling questions over future frequency.

Contributing: Dinah Voyles Pulver