The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Winter Storm Jayden, the Polar Vortex and Climate Change: 3 Factors That Matter
By Brenda Ekwurzel
Climate change can also bring extreme cold. Here are three things we think people need to know about Winter Storm Jayden, the latest polar vortex to engulf the country and climate change.
1. Many U.S. Residents Will Face One of the Coldest Air Masses in Decades
Winter storm Jayden was given a name on Jan. 26, after it met the Weather Channel's forecast criteria of at least 2 million people residing in areas under a National Weather Service winter storm warning. The snow is forecast to move over the northern Great Plains into the Great Lakes region and then the Northeast, while icy conditions and heavy rain are likely in the South.
Temperatures are predicted to plummet following the wind and snow, as one of the coldest air masses in decades settles into these regions. At the time of writing, blizzard conditions had already shut down interstate 90 in Wyoming and the governor of Wisconsin declared a state of emergency as deep snow and dangerous wind chill keeps residents hunkered inside.
The Windy City will likely earn its nickname this week as Chicago may have a wind chill of minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit; if this forecast proves correct, conditions would surpass the record set in 1871.
2. Climate Change Weakens the Polar Vortex, Which Means Near-Record Low
Temperatures East of the Rockies
Back in 1871, when Chicago's record was set, major climate change had not yet ramped up. So how can such cold records be broken with climate change? By messing with the polar vortex.
The stratospheric polar vortex is the stream of upper atmosphere air that circles the North Pole during winter. When the polar vortex is strong, temperatures in the Eastern U.S. and Northern Eurasia are generally mild. But when it's weak, these areas can experience chillingly cold temperatures like we see today. The loss of Arctic sea ice and general amplified warming in the Arctic region is associated with a weakening polar vortex.
The extreme cold already unfolding aligns with Judah Cohen's Jan. 21 analysis of the polar conditions predicting "over the next two weeks yielding normal to above normal temperatures across western North America including Alaska with cold temperatures across Canada and the United States (US) east of the Rockies."
3. The Cold Is Local to Parts of North America—the Rest of the Globe Is Quite Warm
The featured map above shows the surface temperature change from the historical average for Jan. 28, and displays the cold outbreak over North America and northern Eurasia. The cold will penetrate further south as the week progresses. But note that Alaska is quite warm as is Greenland, and that for each hemisphere and the world all temperature change is above the historical average for today. Indeed, according to the NOAA global annual temperature ranking outlook, 2018 is expected to rank as the 4th warmest on record.
Temperature extremes have also occurred in the southern hemisphere. A scorcher in Australia sent large swaths of the country above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), suspended tennis matches at the Australian Open, caused horses to perish near dry watering holes, and led camels to compete with livestock for water.
All of which is to say that the region east of the Rockies can be dangerously cold despite global warming. As Jason Samenow put it: "The polar vortex has fractured, and the eastern U.S. faces a punishing stretch of winter weather." So zip up and cinch your scarves. Stay safe. And remember that despite this bitter chill, the planet is still heating up.
Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at Union of Concerned Scientists.
- Extreme Weather Is Turning the Arctic Brown, Signaling Ecosystem's ... ›
- Are Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change? - Scientific ... ›
- Extreme global weather is 'the face of climate change' says leading ... ›
- The Science Connecting Extreme Weather to Climate Change (2018 ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
David Gilmour, guitarist, singer and songwriter in the rock band Pink Floyd, set a record last week when he auctioned off 126 guitars and raised $21.5 million for ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law group dedicated to fighting the global climate crisis, according to CNN.
The Trump administration ratcheted up its open hostility to climate science in a move that may hide essential information from the nation's farmers.
Police have cleared 250 climate activists who stayed overnight at the Garzweiler brown coal mine in western Germany, officials said Sunday.
By Megan Jones and Jennifer Solomon
The #MeToo movement has caused profound shake-ups at organizations across the U.S. in the last two years. So far, however, it has left many unresolved questions about how workplaces can be more inclusive and equitable for women and other diverse groups.
By Tara Lohan
By now it's no secret that plastic waste in our oceans is a global epidemic. When some of it washes ashore — plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers — we get a stark reminder. And lately one part of this problem has been most glaring to volunteers who comb beaches picking up trash: cigarette butts.
Andrea Rodgers, second from the right, takes notes during a hearing in the Juliana v. U.S. case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on June 4. Colleague Elizabeth Brown sits to her left, while colleague Julia Olson sits on her right, with co-council Philip Gregory on Julia's right. Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust
By Fran Korten
On June 4, Andrea Rodgers was in the front row of attorneys sitting before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court. The court session, held in Portland, Oregon, was to determine whether the climate change lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) brought by 21 young plaintiffs should be dismissed, as requested by the U.S. government, or go on to trial.