How can we possibly experience record cold temperatures on occasion if the Earth is warming?

Dear Tom,
How can we possibly experience record cold temperatures on occasion if the Earth is warming? Do we have it backward? Is the globe is cooling?
— James Scully, Naperville
Dear James,
Global warming does not mean there will be no occasions with record low temperatures at a given location. It means temperatures averaged over the entire planet are rising. Since the late 1880s, the Earth’s temperature has been rising (irregularly, but upward) due mainly to the emissions of greenhouse gases in the modern industrial economy. And, since the 1950s, the global average temperature has risen more rapidly than at any time in the period of accurate worldwide temperature records (in the mid 1800s). The day-to-day weather at any given spot varies and spells of record cold temperatures are possible, but the long-range temperature trend is upward.

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