The Polar Vortex: Effects on the Nation and Climate Change

Vivian Labs, Staff Writer

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Recently the United States experienced drastically low temperatures through a polar
vortex and some suspect that it was caused by climate change. In fact, what many people don't
know is that a polar vortex is not caused by climate change concepts. They are caused by natural
weather patterns and they happen more often than most realize.
It is widely believed that climate change is linked to why we had the polar vortex. In
reality, the polar vortex was partially caused by the jet stream. A jet stream is a wind current that
goes around the whole planet. They separate the high pressure and low pressure air zones. A high
pressure air zone contains warm air and the low pressure zone contains cool air. During winter
the polar jet stream that recently affected us is stronger due to the winter season having typically
constant cooler temperatures. However, when warmer air approaches the jet stream, it will alter
its shape. Typically the jet stream will dip down, in our case over the northern part of the United
States. This allows the low pressure zones containing the cold air to hover over the area which
the jet stream has now moved. This explains why Illinois was experiencing temperatures usually
found in the arctic circle. Over time however, the jet stream weakens and it allows for these
phenomenons to happen.
Even we were affected by this midwestern event, in Perkasie; community members were
encouraged to stay indoors, and Pennridge School District classes were canceled and/or delayed
due to snow and cold temperatures. Even though it snowed, most children stayed inside because
of the dangerously cold conditions.
During the last week in January, 21 people died due to freezing temperatures, and one
Chicago hospital had 50 patients that had been treated with frostbite. The record for windchill
temperature in Illinois was broken at negative 38 degrees. Even for a colder city, Chicago, was
basically shut down after the many closures that preceded the state of emergency called by the
governor. 2,700 flights were canceled, numerous businesses, the postal service, schools, and
attractions like zoos and museums were shut down. Anyone who was outside for more than 15
minutes risked frostbite; some people lost their lives because of it. Chicago used busses as
mobile heat shelter for the homeless who couldn’t find a shelter. Even the Chicago river and
Lake Michigan had frozen over and still are partially frozen.
For the sake of climate change, it is happening and we can only observe it. While it can’t
be proven that it caused the polar vortex, there are however, steps we can take to slow this down
and help prevent extreme weather events like this from happening more frequently and slow our
jet streams from weakening down over time. We can do things like cutting down on carbon
emissions by multiple methods such as taking advantage of renewable energy sources. We can
also cut down on the amount of waste we make by using reusable products and repurposing
items. In general, climate change has been affecting so many parts of our earth, including this
recent polar vortex.

This act of mother nature is another warning sign based on what has happened to our
climate so far. Mrs. Parkes, a chemistry teacher at Pennridge High School said that she, “hope[s]
we could reverse it [the effects of climate change] but it might not actually be possible. We
haven’t helped the situation at all. I am worried for the future generations, these effects have
occurred due to numerous things. Weather has never been this dramatic though.” None of the
patterns of climate change can be directly linked to one factor or another; however, it does seem
to show that these past weather occurrences are likely correlated with it.