2019 Midwest Polar Vortex

The polar vortex in the US Midwest has killed 21 people. A total of 250 million Americans experienced the conditions of the vortex in one form or another, with 90 million affected by temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. One hospital in Chicago has treated 50 people so far for frostbite, half of those being homeless individuals. In exact terms, Cotton, Minnesota became the coldest place in the United States when it reached -56˚F on Thursday, January 31. Temperature records were broken across the region. Relief is expected to come by Monday, with Chicago seeing 50-degree weather. Such a drastic change in temperatures in a short period of time could lead to flooding and utility issues such as pipe bursts. You can read more about the effects of the polar vortex here:


On what should we blame this severe winter weather? Many are quick to point to global warming, but it doesn’t help the general population if they don’t understand how global warming could cause arctic temperatures. To explain cause and effect, we must first examine a polar vortex in its strictest definition. Essentially, a polar vortex is a low-pressure area in the troposphere. There are two vortices, each located above the North and South Poles. Below the base of each vortex is an enormous mass of dense Arctic air. In other words, a polar vortex is a giant mass of cold air that rarely leaves the poles.

Now, you know how when cold and warm air collide, storms happen, right? The same idea applies to what happens when the colder climate caused by the polar vortex meets the warmer climate of the continental United States. Instead of a storm, the meeting of the two temperature regions aids the formation of a strong jet stream. This jet stream is so strong that it keeps the vortex from traveling from the North Pole.

But keep in mind that for the jet stream to remain strong, there must be a significant temperature difference between the two fronts. If the average temperature of the Earth is slowly increasing (which is what global warming is), the differences between the two climates will become altered, ultimately weakening the stream and allowing the vortex to travel south. This is what happened in the Midwest. The jet stream weakened at multiple points, allowing the vortex to split into at least two masses that permeated across the northern US, killing 21 people and causing temperatures to plunge to tens of degrees below zero.

As global warming intensifies, dramatic weather events will become more frequent. Global warming can cause the strengthening and frequency of hurricanes and other summer storms, devastating heat waves, and tornadoes in places where they rarely occur. But it can also cause prolonged periods of cold temperatures such as the event in the Midwest and severe blizzards. It can even cause an increase in snowfall. The term “global warming” does not refer to just dramatic heating events, but to the increase in the average global temperature, which can alter weather patterns and disrupt climates. To reduce the likelihood of such devastating effects, we must recognize that we are, by far, the primary contributors to global warming and implement policies at all government levels to combat its effects.