The so-called “Sunshine State” traded in its burning heat and humidity for biting cold and nearly freezing temperatures to celebrate the first month of 2019. However, the influx of cold weather did not only affect Florida. In fact, the cold outbreak set the record of the coldest weather experienced in parts of the Midwest in over 20 years and daily record low temperatures in other areas. Temperatures in Chicago, one of the worst affected areas, reached below minus 25 degrees and sparked a trend of testing just how cold it was outside. People decided to face the cold air and throw boiling hot water in the air for a chance at their fifteen minutes of Twitter fame using the hashtag “#Chiberia.”
The source of this cold snap throughout the United States traces back to an area of warming in the Arctic. The warming changed the stream of the whirling winds and pushed polar air down which affected the weather in North America. This phenomenon, known as a polar vortex, consists of a wide expanse of constantly swirling polar air, which can expand and break apart to cause lower temperatures in areas such as the United States.
“I never experienced such extreme cold before but I planned ahead so I was ready to handle the weather except my shoes. I only brought sneakers so I wasn’t completely prepared for the cold,” said freshman Emilin Mathew about the weather during her visit to Massachusetts during the cold front.
The polar vortex itself is considered a common occurrence during the winter season and is often associated with cold weather in the United States, but the effects of the vortex are becoming increasingly severe. The extreme cold weather caused at least 21 deaths in the United States, including the discovery of people frozen to death in their own homes and several vehicle accidents involving crashes because of icy roads. Several frostbite and hypothermia cases also developed as the cold weather persisted.
The intense weather conditions could persist in various forms due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions that raise seawater temperatures and greatly impact global weather patterns because of increased potential for storms.
“While not all of these extreme events could be attributed to climate change, the profound changes in the earth’s atmosphere raised ‘the likelihood of a large number of extreme events,’” said climate scientist Friederike Otto in an (interview/article) from the New York Times.
As the cold front subsides and the polar vortex returns to a stable condition, future weather conditions can intensify as the global environment changes.