ICYM: A Couple of Weeks Ago it was Really Cold Where I Live

Beginning in late January, and running into the first couple of days of February, it was super-duper cold here. Schools closed for days and days. What with one thing and another, my children had eleven consecutive school days off in that period. There have been some school years have had shorter holiday breaks in December. Yikes.

And, in Michigan, the entire state was asked to conserve natural gas for two days. This came as a request for major industrial consumers of natural gas to shut down (which they did), and for residential consumers to turn their thermostats down to 67 degrees. Daytime temps were warming up to not negative degrees F during this period.

Holy cow. The cause? A polar vortex, which is a phenomenon I had not heard of before a couple of years ago, descended on the midwest. How? Global warming. Rising global temperatures, and shifting warm and cold patters affected the flow of the high-atmosphere jet streams. The arctic air warmed up, and in those couple of weeks the warm pushed the cold air south.

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Desperately cold weather is now gripping the Midwest and Northern Plains of the United States, as well as interior Canada. The culprit is a familiar one: the polar vortex. A large area of low pressure and extremely cold air usually swirls over the Arctic, with strong counter-clockwise winds that trap the cold around the Pole. But disturbances in the jet stream and the intrusion of warmer mid-latitude air masses can disturb this polar vortex and make it unstable, sending Arctic air south into middle latitudes. That has been the case in late January 2019. Forecasters are predicting that air temperatures in parts of the continental United States will drop to their lowest levels since at least 1994, with the potential to break all-time record lows for January 30 and 31. With clear skies, steady winds, and snow cover on the ground, as many as 90 million Americans could experience temperatures at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18° Celsius), according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The map at the top of the page shows air temperatures at 2 meters (around 6.5 feet above the ground) at 09:00 Universal Time (4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) on January 29, 2019, as represented by the Goddard Earth Observing System Model. GEOS is a global atmospheric model that uses mathematical equations run through a supercomputer to represent physical processes. The animation shows the same model data from January 23-29. NWS meteorologists predicted that steady northwest winds (10 to 20 miles per hour) were likely to add to the misery, causing dangerous wind chills below -40°F (-40°C) in portions of 12 states. A wind chill of -20°F can cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes, according to the weather service. Meteorologists at The Washington Post pointed out that temperatures on January 31, 2019, in the Midwestern U.S. will be likely colder than those on the North Slope of Alaska. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using GEOS-5 data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC #nasagoddard #polarvortex #science #cold #weather via @nasaearth

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