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Warm Pacific Behind U.S. Cold: Study

Update Date: May 26, 2014 09:48 AM EDT

Unusually warm western Pacific waters might be a reason of the bone-chilling winter in parts of the United States earlier this year, according to a new study. 

"People's reaction when they sit under 10 feet (3 meters) of snow is to say, 'This cannot be man-made climate change,' " said professor Tim Palmer of Oxford University, lead author of the study, in a press release. "But there is a plausible link."

According to the study, strengthening of trade winds has led to a build-up of warm water in the western tropical Pacific. 

The study added that rising sea temperatures in the tropical Western Pacific also exacerbated last year's typhoon season including Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines, and heat waves in Australia.

"The sea temperatures in that crucial region of the west Pacific, which are some of the warmest ocean temperatures anywhere in the world, have reached these all-time record warmings through an additional effect, which is man-made climate change," Palmer said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. "The water's already warm there, and it's just taken it over the brink to create conditions last winter and into this spring that were unprecedented."

However, other experts were unconvinced by Palmer's study.

"In both cases, the jet stream's path was extremely amplified or wavy, which is exactly the sort of behavior we expect to occur more frequently in association with rapid Arctic warming," said Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, who wrote in 2011 that a melting of Arctic ice may cause cold snaps, according to The Japan Times.

Palmer's research builds on work that he began almost 30 years ago that examined how climate trends affected weather patterns in the Eastern U.S, Bloomberg reported. 

"There are various links in a long chain, and part of my message is that climate is a complex system," Palmer said. "Interaction between natural climate variability and man-made climate change are coming together in a perfect storm."

The study has been published in the journal Science

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