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In the Swirl of Cold – What is the Polar Vortex?verified tick

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4 months ago
4 months ago
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As northern India continues to battle cold temperatures even in the start of February, people a little to the west seem to be having a slightly tougher – and colder – time. The Polar Vortex has gripped the United States, creating record low temperatures and endless streams of creative cold-related photos on social media. But what is this strange phenomena, and does the cold mean that the hue and cry about global warming may be exaggerated?

Niagara Falls frozen (Source)

Vortex, in simple terms, means air that is in a circular flow. Polar vortex refer to a band of strong circular winds that flow in the high atmosphere of the Arctic region, and thus project the rest of the world from facing these bitterly cold winds. During winters this vortex becomes weak, and some wind inevitably escapes and brings forth the winters to the western hemisphere. This time, the vortex has broken into two, which has brought forth the record low temperatures that are currently gripping the northern regions of the USA.

Source- Getty Images

As the US continues to battle the cold temperatures and many find the bravery to venture out for the sake of social media captures and videos, one question that has emerged in the minds of everybody is that does the colder weather mean that the issue of global warming may have been too exaggerated? Actually, far from it. Despite the biting cold, 2018 went down in records as the fourth hottest year in terms of planetary average.

Even as the northern hemisphere cover up against the cold, Australia is dealing with temperatures so high that it had to introduce a new color – purple – to its weather reporting to highlight the 52 degree heath the country has been facing in some regions.

Lake Erie, North America

A major problem with climate related science and the conclusions drawn from it is that such studies often need time – the one thing, incidentally, we are running out of. Climate change is a slow, long drawn process, and scientists can only make best estimates in the short time they study it. That doesn’t mean however, that the issue is any less alarming or immediate. One conclusion that is increasingly gaining evidence is the notion that climate change leads to more extreme weather (remember, climate is long term, and weather is short term and location specific) events.

In fact, the very cold dissenters are pointing at as evidence of lack of climate change, may in fact be caused by climate change itself. Reducing ice coverage in the artic, along with rising temperatures, may be a central force that weakens and disrupts the polar vortex, thus leading to the cold spills that currently grip the US.

To point to climate change as a causal factor may also be wrong. Yes, it may be confusing, but remember, polar vortexes and even extremely high and low temperatures are natural phenomena. It is just that climate change is loading the die, and is becoming a ‘threat multiplier’ that is increasingly making extreme weather events, including hurricanes and heat waves, more likely.

In a nutshell, cold weather is by no means an indication that global warming isn’t happening. Rather, assessed critically, it is just another sign that human activity is disrupting the world’s climate patterns, and that the time for action is now.

By Niharika Rawat

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