The now-annual Polar Vortex is upon us. Many people cite the blisteringly cold temperatures as evidence against climate change, but in fact it is simply one of the various weird effects that the changing climate has on our weather patterns. Climate change not only brings extreme heat, but it currently brings extreme cold.
There are disagreements on the cause of this weather, but one possibility is that warming temperatures at the North Pole weaken the jet stream which displaces cold air, causing frigid Arctic temperatures to sink towards lower latitudes. This hypothesis is new and there is not a lot of evidence as of yet, but most scientists agree that climate change has a significant part to play in these patterns. The Earth is becoming out of whack in many ways, and this is just one of them.
There’s a reason that this type of weather tends to affect the Midwest more than other regions. The Midwest’s low elevation welcomes currents that are disrupted by the Rocky Mountains to the west. The Rockies protect the west coast from receiving the brunt of the cold air, leaving the Midwest, and to a lesser extent the east coast, vulnerable to the vortex. This phenomenon is not new, but like many other existing phenomena like hurricanes, has become more frequent and more severe in recent years.
Climate change encompasses more than just rising global temperatures. Its effects are many and constantly surprising. Next time some “weird” weather occurs, don’t sign it off as merely weird but think about why it might be happening.
Written by Isabel Lieberman, Class of 2021.