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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less