This article examines the severe winter fluctuations that have been occurring and lists some scientific explanations and theories.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues

Key Questions to Explore:

  • Why have there been such extreme swings in winter temperatures?
  • Is this pattern the new norm?
  • Is climate change the reason?

New Terminology:

Polar vortex

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of the article for the students
  • Access to the internet for research
Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Many of the climate change deniers (US president Trump among them) use the current cold weather snaps to mock the claims of global warming. It seems contradictory to blame the extreme cold weather on global warming but there are rational explanations available. Scientists are reluctant to say that this is the new normal as they prefer longer tracking periods before declaring a new pattern. Nevertheless, they can provide theories as to why this is occurring and its relationship to climate change and global warming. They stress that the negative impacts of human activity on climate change still remain and should not be discounted because of these weather changes. This lesson will have the students research some of the theories and explanations that are being presented to explain these weather patterns and report their findings to the class in order to attempt to establish a clearer understanding of the underlying causes of these more extreme weather patterns.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students to indicate whether or not they accept that climate change and global warming is occurring and presents a very serious challenge to human life.
  • Having done this, ask them to offer explanations as to why there are such extreme winter cold snaps if global warming is occurring.
  • With this as preparation, divide the class into groups of four or five students and assign the following task to the groups:

Using the Internet and any other source you may have, research and report on two explanations as to why we are experiencing such extreme weather conditions, both in winter and summer, and how these weather patterns are related to climate change.

  • Allow the groups a predetermined amount of time to research and prepare their reports.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Once the established period of time has elapsed, have each group report their findings to the class and respond to any comments or questions that may arise.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will:

  • be able to explain some of the reasons being suggested for these extreme weather patterns;
  • offer explanations as to how these patterns are related to climate change.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once the groups have completed their reports, hold a plenary session to get student reactions and observations from what they have just heard and attempt to seek a consensus on the relationship of these weather patterns to climate change.