Climate Reality: The Cold and the Climate

Aadi Shiv Malhotra (‘21)

Living in Michigan requires dealing with cold weather for the most of the year. Michigan has many days with sub-freezing temperatures and an average of about 45 inches of snow in an year. However, there are many places on the Earth where temperatures get colder than Michigan such as the Arctic and the Antarctic. In the last week of January, the Michigan and the Midwestern United States experienced heavy snowfall and very, very cold weather.

This inclement weather was caused by the polar vortex. A polar vortex is a region of low-pressure near the Earth’s poles. The presence of this low pressure area causes a lot of cold, dense air near the poles. Usually this polar vortex stays over the poles but during the winter it is common for the polar vortex to expand over the lower latitudes. However, the polar vortex can weaken and can be affected by the jet stream. Temperature changes in various places on the Earth created a situation where warm air would flow from the south into the vortex. This caused the polar vortex to split and a small piece of it went over the midwestern United States. This caused cities to go below freezing and with wind chills some cities, such as Chicago, had temperatures that were far colder than temperatures in Antarctica.

It may seem that there is no correlation between climate change or global warming and polar vortices, as these do happen freely, it is important to remember, as many influential people forget to do, that climate change and global warming are global phenomenon. While Michigan was experiencing brutally cold weather, during that same period Australia was experiencing swelteringly high temperatures. The city of Adelaide, Australia reached a temperature of 46.6ºC (115.9ºF) and Port Augusta experienced an even higher temperature of 49.5ºC (121.1ºF). Global average temperatures are on a rise with currently global temperatures 0.9ºC above the average and we are expected to hit 3.0ºC by the end of the century.

Since the polar vortex only happened a few days ago, scientists have not confirmed the exact involvement of climate change in this weather anomaly; however, based on analysis from this event and other intense weather events such as hurricanes and the California forest fires last year, extreme weather events are getting stronger. Scientists expect polar vortices to slip to lower latitudes frequently as more hot air will push onto low pressure zones. Similarly, increasing ocean temperatures will create more powerful hurricanes and storms in the world. Global warming on a global scale will cause drier areas to become more dry. Examples of this happening are in India, where high temperatures and dry conditions caused severe drought over the last few years which destroyed the livelihood of lower-income farmers. Forest fires in California will also become more frequent and stronger and will require modern technologies to implemented to fight them.

During the polar vortex, President Trump tweeted about how global warming can exist if it is cold in the Midwest. The thing he got wrong was that global warming and climate change act on a global scale and events like these are local weather events. Climate change is not only heating up the world but is also causing cold weather to become colder. Climate change is happening in the world. The only way we can fix the earth is if the whole world cooperates to help our environment.

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