Repetition wears down disbelief. Today we have been inundated so long with the claims of global warming, that even the most skeptical among us has come to accept the urgency and dire consequences that the global warming advocates promise. Al Gore pioneered the campaign in 2006, equipped with photos of polar bears stranded and near to drowning in frozen Arctic waters. The ice was melting; the bears were doomed. Gore was undaunted, and today, we feel obliged to accept.
Today, too, we embark on a new chapter in the weather debacle. A term most of us hadn’t heard is now daily fare. That term, of course, is “Polar Vortex.”
Polar vortex we learn refers to frigid subzero air that hovers over the axial poles, held in position by winds that circle that vortex, that swirl at speeds that can range to 100 miles/hour. The circling winds are part and parcel of the jet stream. The contained air has no escape, and especially during winter months, is so cold as to be intolerable to humans and most mammals by any standards. Jennifer Francis, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences told Rutgers, in an interview, that:
Occasionally, the polar vortex can shift well south of its typical position, or a significant piece of the larger spin can break off and plunge south into the U.S. In the case of the outbreak this winter, a big southward dip, or trough, in the jet stream has been parked over the eastern two thirds of the United States for several weeks, allowing a large piece of the vortex to break off and move south over Ontario and the northern Great Lakes.
In August of 2010 a record low of – 135.3 degrees was recorded by NASA satellite at the southern pole over Antarctica. At times, scientists tell us, caused by brief warm-ups, the edge of the round or elliptical air mass farthest from the pole dips into populated land areas, and with the in-surge of frozen air comes the onrush of frigid temperature.
Many climatologists agree that one cause of the warming that brings these changes into play is the warmer overall climate. The ice melts, the sunlight is absorbed into the water rather than reflected, and change will be noted. Some scientists and many media broadcasters link these particular changes to global warming. Most scientists, however, acknowledge that the changes have been in a warming trend for 100 years or more.
On February 19, this year, The Daily Princetonian printed the remarks of University lecturer Isaac Held. Held and a number of his colleagues, including University of Washington professor John Wallace, Colorado State University professor David Thompson, University of Alaska Fairbanks professor John Walsh and finally, Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who agree that arguments that the polar regions are warming more quickly than other global areas are “inconclusive.” They debate that global warming is producing unusually cold polar regions. Professor Wallace, at Colorado State, explains, “The polar vortex is a ring of Westerlies — prevailing winds that blow from west to east around the poles that are strongest in the winter. The vortex continually changes its shape, and when its lobes sweep down over temperate areas, those regions get periods of cold weather. I don’t think the slowing down of the polar vortex is enough to really affect behavior of the vortex very much, the belief that human-induced climate change could cause more extreme cold was, in fact, held by only a small minority of researchers. The reason we wrote the letter is because of our concern that this is getting picked up by the press and presented as if it were part of the consensus about global warming,”
Climate.Gov, an government sponsored climate undertaking, describes the phenomena in this way:
In early January, the polar vortex weakened and broke down, allowing fragments of cold air to slosh out of the bowl into mid-latitudes. The high pressure building up in the Arctic slowed down the jet stream, which caused it to buckle into deep folds and flow farther south than usual, introducing cold Arctic air into the central and eastern U.S.
In recent years, climate scientists have noticed that the jet stream has taken on a more wavy shape instead of the more typical oval around the North Pole, leading to outbreaks of colder weather down in the mid-latitudes and milder temperatures in the Arctic, a so-called “warm Arctic-cold continents” pattern. Whether this is normal randomness or related to the significant climate changes occurring in the Arctic is not entirely clear, especially when considering individual events. But less sea ice and snow cover in the Arctic and relatively warmer Arctic air temperatures at the end of autumn suggest a more wavy jet stream pattern and more variability between the straight and wavy pattern.
Understanding the connections between the Arctic warming trend and more severe weather in the mid-latitudes remains an active area of research. But even as Earth’s average temperature rises, natural patterns of climate variability are expected to still operate in a warmer world. There have been many other cases of natural climate oscillations influencing our winter weather in recent years. The unusually cold winter of 2009-2010 proved that record-breaking snowstorms can still coexist with global warming, as did the frigid start to 2011, which resulted in another wintry winter for the eastern United States.
The most huffy and outspoken Rush Limbaugh is one of many media moguls who have undertaken to debate climate change, global warming, and now, polar vortex. Some may recall those early golden days of “talk radio” when bombasticism seemed to matter. Rush was one of the first to tackle the cause of global warming. At that time, he attributed the warmth to cattle flatulence. That still may be a rational explanation. Others blame human habitation and our daily devices for the climate events. “Polar Vortex,” Limbaugh insists, is a concept “created to make you think winter is caused by global warming.” On a recent broadcast Limbaugh used the term “hoax” to tag the claim that global weather was causing the current cold weather winter in the U.S. He added that the media had invented the term “polar vortex” to explain it all away.
This has been a hellacious winter, and whether the blame goes to cattle emission, gas and oil propelled motor cars, or the methane that powers our underarm spray, it seems it will NEVER end!