North American Cold Wave

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North American Cold Wave

The image above from NASA shows the polar vortex from space.

Typical Polar Vortex, November 2013, Image from NOAA
Current Polar Vortex, Early January 2013, Image from NOAA

It has been very cold out lately due to what the media is calling a “polar vortex.” This is a band of cold air at a low pressure that normally circles northeast Siberia. This band is coldest during the winter months, and is kept in place by the jet stream, a narrow and rapidly flowing air stream. However, the jet stream was interrupted this winter, causing the polar vortex to shift towards North America, bringing cold weather with it.


The polar vortex caused extreme weather conditions in the following areas: the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. In the United States, dozens of weather records were broken, particularly in affected areas closer to the equator. For instance, over forty-five record lows were set across the country on January 7. On the same day, the temperature in New York City fell to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, surpassing a record that had held for over 110 years. In New Jersey, the temperatures have fallen near or below zero degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, thousands of flights across the country were cancelled or delayed due to the weather conditions. Furthermore, our state had more than ten inches of snow, leading to the closings of schools, government offices, and universities. Overall, the vortex may have cost our economy up to $5 billion in lost productivity and repairs.

In Canada, there were sustained winds at up to speeds of 25 mph and temperatures lower than negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In Mexico, there were winds exceeding 45 mph and temperatures lower than ten degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. Two winter storms related to the polar vortex, Cyclones Anne and Christina, caused storm surges in the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland.


Officials are currently debating whether global warming caused the polar vortex. Senator James Inhofe and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh do not think that global warming caused the polar vortex. On the other hand, Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, asserted that “If you’ve been hearing that extreme cold spells . . . disprove global warming, don’t believe it”. Whether or not the polar vortex was caused by global warming or climate change, we can expect more weather anomalies like this in the future.

About The Author

Hari Ravichandran

Hari Ravichandran is a chemical engineering student at NJIT, and was the Web & Multimedia Editor of The NJIT Vector during the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters. He writes a column on World News & Issues with the intention of informing students about current events.

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