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A Late Polar Vortex Could Bring Record Cold Temperatures to Northeastern U.S.

Climate
A Late Polar Vortex Could Bring Record Cold Temperatures to Northeastern U.S.
Below-average temperatures are expected in the Midwest and East this weekend. NOAA / National Weather Service

It will be warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than it will be in New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland and even Atlanta this weekend, AccuWeather predicted Wednesday.


The reason? The polar vortex is heading south, bringing with it potentially record-low temperatures for May, CNBC explained. BAM Weather meteorologist Ryan Maue said that more and more scientists are beginning to link weather swings like this one with the climate crisis.

"This is not just some random one-off weather event but an obvious trend toward hyper-extreme atmospheric circulations outside the normal bounds of what we typically experience in May," Maue told CNBC. "It's not always hotter and drier with rapid climate change, but also colder and wetter."


The cold weather is coming because part of the polar vortex will separate from its circulation over the Arctic and dip down over the eastern Great Lakes and New England, The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang explained.

This will likely break records for upper-air temperatures, leading to readings of negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit at the 500-millibar level (about 18,000 feet above sea level) over upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, and Lakes Erie and Ontario.

"Of course, no one lives at the 500 millibar pressure level in this region, but meteorologists look to this temperature as an indication of how unusually cold is an air mass," Matthew Cappucci wrote for The Washington Post. "With air that cold upstairs, it's no surprise that surface temperatures are going to be chilly as well."

On the surface, record-low daily maximums could reach Boston, Providence, Rhode Island and Hartford, Connecticut. Other places could also report record lows for May, as temperatures in the mid-20s are forecast for Detroit and Pittsburgh, CNBC reported.

Cold temperatures will be most extreme east of the Rockies, over the Great Lakes and in the Northeast, where they could be as much as 20 to 25 degrees below seasonal highs.

However, it could freeze as far south as northern Georgia and in the higher elevations in the Carolinas, The Washington Post reported.

It could also snow over the Appalachian Trail from North Carolina to Maine and in New England. While May snows have been recorded with similar weather patterns in places like Buffalo, New York and Pittsburgh, this weekend's snowfall is predicted to be more widespread, AccuWeather reported. It could cover a 500-mile stretch from Ohio to New England, which AccuWeather said was unusual.

Scientists are investigating whether the Arctic's rapid warming is making it more unstable, pushing cold air further south, CNBC reported. A 2018 study found that there had been more times when the polar vortex had weakened in the winter over the last 37 years.

"The cold is very unusual," Maue told CNBC. "It is difficult to pinpoint the cause-and-effect or correlation-causation with extreme weather events and climate change. But changes in the behavior of the jet stream are becoming more accepted by scientists looking for physical reasoning behind what we are seeing on weather maps."

While the cold snap may make social distancing easier, it could be a challenge for those who have been prompted by coronavirus lockdowns to try home gardening.

"Get ready to cover or bring in any sensitive plants you bought during the surge of warm weather this past weekend," Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather's top long-range forecaster, said.

He warned that the cold temperatures could have a negative impact on new or sensitive plants, orchards and vineyards.







A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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