Millennium Post

Cold weather, hot planet

There’s something extremely intriguing about a sudden weather snap in the whole of North America, including its warm southern tip and the plummeting of temperatures to subzero levels in all 52 states. There were times when the ‘frost from Hell’ that had struck the better part of the United States of America in the first few days of January had caused the temperatures to tumble further down to points at which they were colder than they are on Mars, which is millions of miles farther away from the Sun than we are, sitting here on our blue planet, Earth. While the extreme cold weather condition in almost 50 of the US states was attributed to a phenomenon called polar vortex, climate change deniers have latched on to it as a godsend to disprove the scientifically proven theory of global warming. For them, represented by a number of vociferous Republicans in the US, a hot planet cannot have mini ice ages and fluctuating weather patterns since they just don’t look good together!

Obviously, that’s not the case. Even if the saner sections of American and British media and polity have been wary about announcing the death of global warming as a phenomenon, television channels such as Fox News among others as well as local radios have been busy screaming their guts out about how climate change is a ‘liberal hoax.’ In fact, as the polar vortex caused havoc in American homes, stranding people at their homes and pushing up the power consumption for hiked up central heating to unmanageable levels, Fox News ran a ticker saying ‘Al Gore left a message for you.’ For them, a planetary warming could not have led to such a bitterly icy condition and hence it just had had to be false.


This explanation, as scientists would concur, is obviously fallacious. There is a reason why climate change deniers do not publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, since ocular proof isn’t enough to establish a theory, which is usually counter-intuitive. For example, what really is the polar vortex? It is a seasonal occurrence at the North Pole and resembles a cold air hurricane, with fast moving icy currents circling the calmer centre, the Arctic, at super speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Usually, the girdle of spinning winds keeps the far, far colder Arctic blasts trapped inside, but when the polar vortex weakens of splits apart, it lets in the super-chilled air and allows it to crossover and sink the mercury to unbelievable levels.

Scientists at top universities, as well as at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have put forward a theory that the weakening of the polar vortex may very well be because of the rising temperatures in the Arctic, which have been recorded for the past several years now. Hence, the ultra cold winter may not be at all because global warming is a hoax; it is a chilling reminder, well literally so, that global warming is on full-fledged and has already started causing havoc with our weather and climate patterns, disrupting human and animal life big time.


The depleting ice sheet from the North and South Poles is another indicator of global warming, as is widely known. But the melting sea ice is actually doing two things simultaneously: it’s pushing up the temperatures at the Poles, which are becoming ever so warmer, while at the same time, dipping the oceanic temperatures temporarily, and cooling up air currents worldwide. Hence, the melting sea ice in the summers has resulted in colder winters in the northern hemisphere, with the dramatic retreat of the Arctic sea ice over the last three decades already beginning to change the weather patterns, causing cold Artic air to be funneled over North America and parts of Europe, including Russia and Britain, replacing the mild westerly airstream that normally dominates UK’s weather.        
A 2009 study carried out in Britain had predicted that extreme weather patters, with super hot summers and super cold winters, would become a routine feature in the years to come. As the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean disappears, the heat of the relatively warmer seawater escapes into the much colder air above, thereby creating a high pressure area surrounded by clockwise-moving winds that drag down from the polar region and spread over northern hemisphere, plunging it in unforeseen cold. Model simulations and studies at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany have also reached similar conclusions.


Why is a snowstorm or a ‘colder than Mars’ condition not reason enough to debunk climate change? Just because climate contrarians are not ready to believe that greenhouse gases and CFCs that come out of industrial and nuclear emissions can actually so drastically alter the composition of the atmosphere. But scientists at NASA and NOAA as well as other prominent research centres of the world have concurred on the rising graph of the average global temperature, with the past decade (2000-2010) recorded the hottest since weather and climate data have been kept, the 1880s. The presence of excessive GHGs and CFCs has trapped more heat in the atmosphere, but thanks to the coal and petroleum dependent global economy, there’s no sign of bringing the emissions under control. While the splitting or weakening of the polar vortex causes icy winters and situations of deep freeze, heating up of the atmosphere causes more moisture to be caught in the warmer air, leading to ever more oceanic cyclones and hurricanes ripping past the coastlines and causing enormous devastation. In the last few years, we have seen a number of them, including Phailin, Sandy, Helen and Katrina of 2005. Risks of wildfire, drought and other fluctuations also go up, interspersed with heavy floods and other dangerous meteorological misfirings.


The Arctic summer sea ice extent receded to an unprecedented level in 2012, pointing towards a deadly play of declining ice cover, ocean patterns, upper winds and jet streams in northern mid-latitudes. This ended up piercing the polar vortex, but only mildly, then. But in December 2013 to January 2014, all hell broke loose, as it were. The destabilised polar vortex and the raised barometric pressure inside the Arctic belt have both got prolonged, sending out the distress signals through the ultra frosty conditions. Because even a tiny shift of temperature in the delicate Arctic zone can wreak havoc, which would increasingly take longer to get back to normalcy, extreme winters are here to stay. Already, forecasts are spelling doom and expecting another cold snap in the last week of this month, from 25 January onwards, and only heavens know what duress that will bring to the world. Since icy conditions put a massive strain on the world’s power consumption, grid failures and death by freezing might just be around the corner. Perhaps the Hollywood disaster film The Day After Tomorrow does not look that improbable at this juncture, although it would take more for the climate deniers to wake up and smell the coffee.
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