Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Climate Change Is Making Winter Colder in the Northeast

Climate
Climate Change Is Making Winter Colder in the Northeast
Pexels

By Jeremy Deaton

Early this week, record cold blasted the Northeast, as Boston, Massachusetts saw a high of 10 degrees F, and nearby Worcester saw the temperature top out at just 1 degree F. Meteorologists say this is just the beginning of a lengthy stretch of freezing weather.


Paradoxically, frosty winter temperatures in some areas have been linked to rising temperatures around the globe. Climate change is distorting weather systems, yielding colder winter weather in parts of the world, including much of the U.S. One reason for this phenomenon is a weakening of the polar jet stream, the air current circling the Arctic.

The jet stream is the result of the difference in temperature between colder northern latitudes and temperate southern latitudes. Warm air from the equator is colliding with cold air from the Arctic, and a ribbon of powerful winds runs the length of the collision. Ushered along by the rotation of the Earth, this air current is moving west to east at speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour.

The polar jet stream. NASA

The jet stream is strongest in the winter months when the temperature difference between north and south is greatest. Cold air is denser than warm air, so when the difference in temperature is greater, the difference in density is also greater, and the barrier between cold air and warm air is firmer. Think of cold air and warm air like vinegar and oil, which are kept distinct by their different densities.

What is the jet stream and how does it affect the weather? youtu.be

Climate change is weakening the jet stream by reducing the difference in temperature between cold, northern air and warm, southern air. As the Earth warms, it's not warming evenly. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, meaning it is growing closer in temperature to more southern latitudes. As a result, the barrier between cold and warm air is growing weaker, and the jet stream is going wobbly.

Instead of forming an even ring around the Arctic, the jet stream is now twisting and contorting, allowing the polar vortex, the mass of cold, dense air over the north pole, to reach its tendrils further south, chilling large parts of the U.S. and Europe. Think of the jet stream as a fence around the polar vortex. Climate change is letting the polar vortex break out of the fence.

The jet stream (pink), divides cold, Arctic air (blue) from warm air at lower latitudes (orange). Under normal conditions, the jet stream forms a firm barrier around the Arctic a). But as the Earth warms, it's growing more wobbly (b), allowing cold air to reach further south (c). Fred the Oyster

Just as changes to the jet stream are allowing cold, Arctic air to reach further south, they are also allowing warm equatorial air to reach further north, fueling more unusual weather across the globe, both hot and cold. Last February, for example, the mercury reached 76 degrees F heat in New York City at the same time that it dipped to 35 degrees F in Southern California, all thanks to a squishier, wavier, wobblier jet stream. As the planet warms, the problem is likely to get worse.

Once the polar vortex breaks out of its pen, it takes a while to get it back in. The current spate of unusually cold weather could last several weeks, meteorologists warn, chilling much of the Eastern U.S. So bundle up. Winter is going to be around for a while.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

Eating too much black licorice can be toxic. Nat Aggiato / Pixabay

By Bill Sullivan

Black licorice may look and taste like an innocent treat, but this candy has a dark side. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the culprit in the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts. How could this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds more like a twisted tale than a plausible fact.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
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.

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch