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.
"You're talking about frostbite and hypothermia issues very quickly, like in a matter of minutes." In my 2nd… https://t.co/GxEUxAANJQ— Olivia Rosane (@Olivia Rosane)1548768589.0
Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at Union of Concerned Scientists.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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