The polar vortex is striking the nation


Gwyneth Roberts, Journal Star

Caitlynn Cook, Copy Editor

“Polar vortex” is a phrase that makes even winter-seasoned midwesterners cringe. The National Weather Service defines a polar vortex as “a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles.” It always exists in each of the poles, however it weakens in the summer and strengthens/expands in the winter, becoming less stable – hence why it can get out of control in the winter. The term “vortex” refers to the counterclockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air close to the poles.

Photo Cred: The Weather Channel

Several media outlets have reported that the cause of this winter’s polar vortex is climate change, however, scientists studying this have remained cautious. The theory that some scientists have is that the decline of Arctic sea ice, which has dropped by an estimated 15 percent over the last 40 years, has disrupted the polar vortex, according to The Washington Times. However, other scientists have a different theory.

There is no evidence in the data supporting the claim that decreasing Arctic sea ice in recent decades is causing more frequent displacement of cold winter air masses into the eastern US,” Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, wrote on his Global Warming blog.

Photo Cred: NOAA

The harsh, frigid weather is to blame for at least 12 deaths so far. In fact, it has been so cold that during the last two weeks, it has been said that it was colder in the US than it was in Antarctica, Alaska and Siberia. This winter has been filled with such low temperatures that around the nation, it is becoming more popular to close schools and businesses due to bitter temps than it is due to snow and ice.

The winter freeze is expected to “chill” the economy as well. It is estimated that the polar vortex could cost the US economy up to a chilling $14 billion, “and while much of that will be recouped, up to $5 billion could be lost permanently,” according to AccuWeather. This wouldn’t be the first time this occurred. During the winter of 2013-2014, frigid weather caused the economy to shrink 2.1 percent, just during the first quarter of 2014.

This is how the polar vortex has been striking the nation. This winter has been an interestingly odd one, as the temps were just in the 50s last weekend. After all, we do live in Nebraska. It is important during these times to stay safe, stay warm and bundle up!