A few weeks ago in Michigan, we got hit with a blast of icy weather, called a polar vortex, that shut down almost anything going on for a few days. Our university closed down due to sustained windchills below -20˚F and at times the wind chill got below -30˚F. Even though this weather may be more routine than earthquakes and forest fires, there was still severe damage and health concerns that arose because of the sudden and intense cold. Since this hit a bit closer to home for Rachel and I, we wanted to know what is a polar vortex, what causes it, and can we expect more of this crazy weather in years to come. We talked to Dr. Julie Winkler to find out!
“The polar vortex changes in its strength. For example, it’s much weaker in the summer and stronger in the winter and that has to do with temperature gradient [between the midlatitudes and the poles].”
“When the polar vortex is strong…it keeps the cold air aloft in the high latitudes. So actually, with a strong polar vortex, we get milder conditions. But, what can happen during winter is that we can see the air warming in the high latitudes aloft…that reduces the temperature gradient between the midlatitudes and poles aloft and the polar vortex weakens…it starts to become wavy…and we can have some of the cold air from the high latitudes move south into the midlatitudes.”
“When we talk about climate change, we’re talking about a change that’s on top of the natural climate variability…we have to look at the long term trends.”
“Climate change has, at a much more moderate level than what is being portrayed in the movies, can have very substantial impacts on our well-being and livelihood and our economic activities and natural vegetation.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty associated with future climate change, for a number of different reasons…So we try, very much, to try to capture that uncertainty in our work and to communicate that uncertainty to decision-makers.”
Find out more about Dr. Julie Winkler’s research!
Look here to watch some of the news highlights from this winter storm!