The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Jet streams flow from west to east in the uppe...

Jet streams flow from west to east in the upper portion of the troposphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been impossible to ignore talk of the polar vortex in recent weeks. Freezing temperatures, snowfall, accidents.. It’s enough to make you want to stay inside and hibernate this winter! If you’re wondering about the story behind the extreme weather, read on:

What is the Polar Vortex?

The polar vortex is a “large pocket of very cold air that generally sits over both the North and South Poles”. It is usually sequestered in this area by the encircling jet stream, keeping the cold locked in the Arctic regions. In recent weeks, part of the jet stream has shifted south over the eastern two thirds of the United States (a process called “Arctic Oscillation”).This has allowed part of the vortex to move south over central Canada, and has caused extreme weather in parts of Northern America.

The polar vortex never actually moves above the United States, leading some meteorologists to argue against the widespread use of the term as synonymous with the recent cold weather.

Is the recent weather related to climate change?

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to some that global warming could cause cold temperatures, climate change affects weather patterns in diverse ways. Climate scientist Jennifer Francis comments We can’t say these extremes are happening because of climate change, but we can say that they’re more likely because of climate change.”

Another report suggests that similar patterns could be the result of the melting of Arctic sea ice (due to human-induced global warming).

Continuing Conditions

In Baltimore, we’ve experienced snow storms, schools shutting down and bursting water mains. However, elsewhere, on January 28th, the governors of  Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina all declared states of emergency, due to the weather. In Michigan and Wisconsin, normally more winter-hardy states, the governors declared states of emergency due to a shortage of propane, used for heating in rural areas. In Alabama, schools rushed to make arrangements for accommodating students, should conditions prevent them from being picked up. These conditions are expected to continue into next week.

Preparing for the Cold

In adverse weather conditions, preparation is key. Stay aware of incoming weather, keep your cell phone charged for emergencies, and keep an eye on your pipes (in southern states, pipes are typically located in areas where they are more vulnerable to freezing conditions.)

What has been your experience of the weather? How are you preparing for further cold spells?

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Alice Kallaugher

As a Project Assistant with Campaign Consultation, Inc. I coordinate efforts across multiple teams to ensure success for projects such as the Social Innovation Fund, and the Office of Minority Health. I have worked at a student run crisis hotline, and as a community organizer, focusing on implementing social justice at the grassroots level. Read more.

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