Polar Vortex Is Nothing To Laugh At

Incidents of Global Warming We Are Ignoring

Frozen Over: Ice floes fill the Hudson River in early January during an extreme cold spell that fell over most of the country.
Getty Images
Frozen Over: Ice floes fill the Hudson River in early January during an extreme cold spell that fell over most of the country.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 15, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.

The new year elevated our national conversation to new heights of unreality, if that’s possible. Democrats in Washington presented 2014 as the year we tackle economic inequality, Congress permitting, which it won’t. Progressives fought to ensure we don’t forget immigration reform, gun safety and protecting abortion rights. Conservatives hoped to stand firm on budgets and roll back Obamacare.

And while Washington yacked, close to half the country couldn’t leave the house because of deadly cold. Nearly the entire continental United States was blanketed by frigid air in the second week of January. Two dozen states suffered record-breaking chill.

On this, our leaders had nothing to say.

Granted, it’s no big deal when towns and regions get cold. And sometimes whole sections of the country turn frosty at once. But when that big purple bad-weather swirl starts covering the whole map and half the continent is in full disaster mode, something’s going on.

If you’re tempted to giggle, go ahead. “Global warming brings winter chill?” Totally. Over at PJMedia.com the other day, online editor Rick Moran yukked that he had “just shoveled a foot of global warming off my driveway.” At Breitbart.com, Washington editor John Nolte chuckled about those “Global Warming-believing scientists” who sailed to Antarctica to see how the ice was melting, only to “run into a helluva lot more Antarctic ice” than anticipated. Good one.

And Rush Limbaugh reported that the “wackos” on the left have “come up with this phrase called ‘polar vortex’” to explain how global warming causes winter. Get it?

Well, not to spoil anyone’s fun, but that “polar vortex” thingie is just another name for the cold air above the Arctic Circle. Its perimeter is a cold wind, the polar jet stream, that circles the globe. They taught us about that in junior high. Maybe Rush was stoned that day.

Alert readers may recall me mentioning the jet stream before. It’s been acting funny lately. It seems that as the polar ice cap melts, the Arctic Ocean’s dark surface absorbs the sun’s rays instead of bouncing them back into space, as a solid ice sheet does. The warmer sea heats the air overhead a tad. This slows the jet stream, causing it to bulge southward in unpredictable ways. Cold Arctic air follows behind, like the air in a balloon when you squeeze it.

Southward distortions of the polar jet stream are nothing new. Lately, though, as the ice melts, they’re getting bigger and more frequent, with extreme consequences.

One bulge wandered over Greenland in October 2012 and collided with an Atlantic hurricane. Northbound hurricanes generally curve eastward and out to sea, often sideswiping New Jersey and Long Island as they go. But Hurricane Sandy bumped into the Greenland bulge and bounced westward, crashing head-on into the nation’s largest city. Factor in warming oceans, which increase storms’ intensity, and rising sea levels, which sent waves cascading over whole towns, and you have a natural disaster of historic proportions.



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