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Psst ... climate change is still here, even though it's freezing out

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Snow is swept off the swath of ice to be harvested.
Snow is swept off the swath of ice to be harvested from Green Lake near Spicer, Minn., last year.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Yes, it's freezing outside. That's the weather.

And, yes, global warming is happening, too. That's the long-term warming of the climate caused by humans' greenhouse gas emissions. 

President Donald Trump got the internet talking when he suggested on Sunday that snow in the northeastern U.S. somehow negated modern climate science.

Trump's tweet quickly triggered the ire of climate scientists.

"I think it is important to say, 'No, just because it snowed once in winter on the East Coast doesn't mean that decades worth of observation that's tracking the warming of the entire planet are somehow invalidated,'" said Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University.

Trump's apparent arguments that large snowfall totals and "near record setting cold" mean the climate isn't changing are common. They've been widely debunked, too. 

The website Skeptical Science, run by climate scientist John Cook, includes them on its list of the "most used climate myths."

First, the "cold" argument. Here's what Skeptical Science has to say:

Since the mid 1970s, global temperatures have been warming at around 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. However, weather imposes its own dramatic ups and downs over the long term trend. We expect to see record cold temperatures even during global warming. 

Nevertheless over the last decade, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows. This tendency towards hotter days is expected to increase as global warming continues into the 21st Century.

Now, for the snow

To claim that record snowfall is inconsistent with a warming world betrays a lack of understanding of the link between global warming and extreme precipitation. Warming causes more moisture in the air which leads to more extreme precipitation events. 

This includes more heavy snowstorms in regions where snowfall conditions are favourable. Far from contradicting global warming, record snowfall is predicted by climate models and consistent with our expectation of more extreme precipitation events.

Overall, Americans' thinking on global warming appears to be shifting. 

A new Yale University survey found that 72 percent of Americans say global warming is "personally important" for them, and nearly as many said they worry about climate change. 

Why more concern with climate change? Hayhoe thinks it's because people are starting to see the negative impacts where they live.

"It's all kinds of events from wildfires to hurricanes and heat waves to floods and droughts," she said. "Ten years ago, most people couldn't really point to a specific way their lives are being affected by a changing climate."

Use the audio player above to hear an interview with Hayhoe on what makes for effective climate change communication, plus a Climate Story from Marco Hunt of Leech Lake.