Quantcast

Winter Storm Jayden, the Polar Vortex and Climate Change: 3 Factors That Matter

Insights + Opinion
ClimateReanalyzer.org

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Ice-rich permafrost has been exposed due to coastal erosion, National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska. Brandt Meixell / USGS


By Jake Johnson

An alarming study released Tuesday found that melting Arctic permafrost could add nearly $70 trillion to the global cost of climate change unless immediate action is taken to slash carbon emissions.

According to the new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, melting permafrost caused by accelerating Arctic warming would add close to $70 trillion to the overall economic impact of climate change if the planet warms by 3°C by 2100.

Read More Show Less
Jeff Reed / NYC Council

The New York City Council on Thursday overwhelmingly passed one of the most ambitious and innovative legislative packages ever considered by any major city to combat the existential threat of climate change.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Ghazipur is a neighborhood in East Delhi. It has been one of the largest dumping site for Delhi. India is one of many countries where global warming has dragged down economic growth. Frédéric Soltan / Corbis / Getty Images

Global inequality is worse today because of climate change, finds a new study published Monday by Stanford University professors Noah Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read More Show Less
A child playing with a ball from planet earth during Extinction Rebellion rally on April 18 in London, England. Brais G. Rouco / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Earth Day 2019 just passed, but planning has already begun for Earth Day 2020, and it's going to be a big deal.

Read More Show Less
Geneva Vanderzeil, A Pair & A Spare / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Is your closet filled with clothes you don't wear (and probably don't like anymore)? Are you buying cheap and trendy clothing you only wear once or twice? What's up with all the excess? Shifting to a more Earth-conscious wardrobe can help simplify your life, as well as curb fast fashion's toll on people and the planet.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Christine Zenino / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s, which is even faster than scientists thought, CNN reported Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
The 18th century St. Catherine of Alexandria church is seen after its bell tower was destroyed following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the town of Porac, pampanga province on April 23. TED ALJIBE / AFP / Getty Images

At least 16 people have died, 81 are injured and 14 are still missing after an earthquake struck Luzon island in the Philippines Monday, according to the latest figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as the Philippine Star tweeted Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Climate change activists gather in front of the stage at the Extinction Rebellion group's environmental protest camp at Marble Arch in London on April 22, on the eighth day of the group's protest calling for political change to combat climate change. TOLGA AKMEN / AFP / Getty Images

Extinction Rebellion, the climate protest that has blocked major London thoroughfares since Monday April 15, was cleared from three key areas over Easter weekend, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less