U.S. News

01.06.14

Thank Global Warming for Freezing You Right Now

Lethal temperatures in Minnesota. A frost warning for the Everglades. The North Pole is moving south thanks to climate change.

Chances are, you've never been this cold before.

I'm talking boiling-water-instantly-turned-to-snow-via-super-soaker cold, like this guy demonstrated a few days ago in Canada:

Video screenshot

That's what's coming your way right now, America 

The coldest weather in decades has begun its march across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. On Monday and Tuesday, the “polar vortex” will push southward with a ferocity nearly unmatched in the last 140 years of record-keeping.

It's so cold that the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities has issued an extremely rare (I've never seen it before) 'Particularly Dangerous Situation' wind chill warning for Monday morning, a special type of warning usually only reserved for the most extreme tornado outbreaks. Bold words of warning, from the weather service:

ANYONE STUCK OUTSIDE FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME WILL BE AT SERIOUS RISK FOR INJURY OR DEATH.

Wind chills there are expected to dip as low as -65ºF, challenging all-time local records in one of the coldest places in the country. Weather records in the Twin Cities date back to 1871.

It's so cold that the National Weather Service in Miami has issued a freeze watch for the Everglades. You know, home of alligators and giant pythons. And even alligator-eating pythons. Sub-freezing air will also extend southward across the border of Texas into Mexico.

It's so cold that in places like Chicago, high temperatures on Monday could break current record lows.

Sure, schools are accordingly shut across the Midwest, but when Atlanta's schools close, you know something's a little out of hand.

Simply put, this is the kind of cold you don't want to mess around with.

As crazy as it sounds, global warming may be at least partly to blame.

This particularly aspect of climate change science is not yet definitive, but here's what may be going on:

1) The Arctic rapidly warming: It's always going to be colder at the North Pole than it is in Miami, but the difference in temperature between those two places may already be shrinking. The Arctic is quickly losing sea ice, which is being replaced by relatively warmer open ocean. Liquid water tends to trap heat more effectively than ice, which in turn discourages the future formation of ice. It's a feedback loop that is not working in our favor, and as a result, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

2) The jet stream is slowing down: The coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere is typically trapped in the far northern Arctic by the jet stream. However, with a little help from climate change, that barrier is starting to break down. As the temperature contrast between the warmer tropics decreases, the jet stream, whichexists due to that contrast, weakens and becomes more elongated and chaotic. Think of navigating a car through slow-moving traffic: it's a lot less straightforward to find a quick route from point A to point B.

3) As a result, extreme weather ensures: With a slower, more chaotic jet stream, there's a much greater likelihood of weather systems getting stuck on their paths around the planet. When weather systems stagnate, they have a tendency to intensify, sometimes breaking records for heat, cold, snow, and rain in the process. Also, when increasingly elongated paths are taken by jet stream winds, it's easier for them to pull exceptionally cold air further southwards, which is exactly what's happening this week.

For those that still doubt, here's something else that's happening:

It's so hot right now in Australia, they're frying eggs on shovels. Isn't science neat?