Opinion | Get out of the cold and think about global warming – TheSpec.com
It was easy to blame nature for the historic — and dangerous — deep freeze that gripped central North America this week. But should we also blame ourselves?
That this was not your regular January cold snap was obvious to anyone who ventured outside and almost immediately felt the unfamiliar polar air gnawing into their fingers, ears, noses and cheeks — any area of flesh left exposed.
Environment Canada warned residents of southern Ontario not only of the abnormally low temperatures that on Thursday morning plunged to -25 C in places — or -39 C with the wind chill — but that frostbite could occur in minutes. Seldom, if ever, have people experienced such bone-numbing cold in this part of the continent.
From southern Saskatchewan, through Manitoba, Ontario and into Quebec, millions of Canadians suffered even after bundling up. Their American neighbours had it worse. It was 10 C warmer in Antarctica than in America’s Midwest. Frigid air blasted Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, driving temperatures down to -38 C and -50 C or worse with the wind chill. Schools, businesses and city operations closed as records for low temperatures were constantly shattered.
More than 1,600 flights in and out of Chicago were cancelled. Bewildered citizens began calling their city Chiberia. But the brutal cold was more treacherous than amusing and has been blamed for eight deaths and countless cases of frostbite or hypothermia in the Midwest.
The quick explanation for these Arctic-like conditions is something called the polar vortex. Normally a swirling mass of bitterly cold air circling high in the atmosphere around the North Pole, it recently split in two and moved far to the south in Eurasia and North America. It brought the Arctic air with it.
The debate over why this happened has been heated. With his typically misinformed bravado, climate-change skeptic Donald Trump tweeted: “What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you.” According to the U.S. president’s cockeyed logic, January’s bitter cold somehow proves global warming is a myth.
But many scientists, citing a growing body of data, disagree. They believe humans have changed the planet’s climate and that this could be behind the incredible cold spell — just as it’s connected to the current record-breaking heat wave in Australia, where temperatures recently topped 46 C.
Our Earth is definitely warming, with 2018 going down as the fourth hottest year on record.
There is evidence that as the planet heats up, the air current known as the jet stream has slowed and become more irregular over North America and Europe. This altered jet stream has interacted with the polar vortex, bringing it farther south. Moreover, as Arctic ice retreats, northern oceans are absorbing more sunlight and warming. This heat may be creating winds that are also disrupting the polar vortex.