Extreme weather: Polar vortex in Midwest, record heat in Australia, weird warmth in Alaska. What's going on?

Doyle Rice

Extreme weather has wreaked havoc worldwide this month: As the upper Midwest shivered with record-breaking cold temperatures thanks to the polar vortex, wild extremes in weather were reported in other parts of the world.

In Australia, blistering heat this month has scorched the country, causing disastrous wildfires and setting temperature records. “Australia is currently experiencing all-time record temperatures – exceeding 115 degrees – and extended heat waves," said John Allen, a meteorologist and climate scientist at Central Michigan University.

In fact, all of Australia – again – is in the midst of one of its hottest summers on record, according to the New York Times. Dozens of wildfires raged on Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia.

It's so hot there that snakes are seeking refuge in people’s toilets, the Capital Weather Gang reported.

A man dives into the water on January 25, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Record heat has scorched the country this month, just as a polar vortex froze the central U.S.

And in Alaska, it's too warm for sled dog races. "Rain and poor trail conditions have led to the cancellation of this year’s Willow 300 Sled Dog Race," the Anchorage Daily News reported. A stretch of above-freezing temperatures had led to open water on sections of the trail.

In fact, temperatures this week were significantly warmer in parts of Alaska than in the north-central part of the continental U.S. In McGrath, Alaska, a record-breaking temperature of 42 degrees was reported this week, the National Weather Service reported, which was 50 to 60 degrees warmer than portions of Minnesota. 

Weird extremes like this may become more commonplace in the future: scientists say a warming world will likely be a more extreme world.

Although "human-caused climate change is not the sole cause of any single extreme event," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, "changes in the intensity or frequency of extremes may be influenced by human-caused climate change."

Last June, a report from the World Meteorological Organization warned that the floods, heatwaves and other extreme weather conditions gripping many parts of the world "are likely to continue as a consequence of accelerating climate change."

“What we are seeing is consistent with climate change scenarios," said WMO spokeswoman Claire Nullis. 

More: 'Stay inside': Death toll up to 7 people as Arctic cold blasts Midwest, East

More: Arctic cold doesn't refute global warming

Man-made climate change, aka global warming, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil, which release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This extra CO2 causes temperatures of the atmosphere and oceans to rise, allows the atmosphere to hold more water vapor (which can add extra fuel to storms), and causes global sea levels to rise.

Other research has backed up a connection between extreme weather and global warming: A 2014 study in Nature found that bouts of extreme weather are linked to large fluctuations of wind patterns high above the Earth's surface, which could be related to climate change.

"The implication of our study is that if climate change was to make these wave patterns more frequent, this could lead to more heat waves in the western U.S., droughts in the central U.S. and cold outbreaks in the eastern U.S.," said James Screen of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

That study showed "how large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns are affected by climate change," said climatologist Michael Mann of Penn State University.

Some new research suggests that climate change may make these frigid dips of arctic air down into the U.S. more possible, as a warming Arctic shoves the air from up there down here.

Contributing: The Detroit Free Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Extreme weather: Polar vortex in Midwest, record heat in Australia, weird warmth in Alaska. What's going on?