Letter to the editor: Polar Vortex related to climate change
From Katya Gordon
Today a friend and I skied the Korkki trail. Once again, conditions were perfect and once again, I wondered how long winter is going to last! While even snow-lovers like me are getting just a bit tired of our buried world and would love to step outside with bare ears, I take note that, once again, our weather fits into the “extreme” category. Average, normal seasonal shift is not normal but rare, and it doesn’t take much research to figure out why.
For anyone who is wondering how there could be global warming when we are living in such extreme cold, there are a couple of simple answers.
It’s regional. Globally, January 2014 ranked as the fourth warmest since 1880, according to NOAA data. The West experienced much warmer and drier weather than usual. Many areas worldwide, including most of South America, Africa, and Australia, had their warmest Januarys in recorded history. Take a look at this map and you’ll see that we are almost alone in our chill.
It’s extreme. While longtime northerners have rightly pointed out that deep snow and deep cold used to feel a lot more normal, this winter has, in fact, broken many records. Our cold air is not coming from the typical Canadian winter systems, but straight down from the Arctic. Why? Because the Polar Vortex, a circular system of coldness that generally sits around northern Siberia and Baffin Island, keeps getting bumped down to us. So we end up with colder air than, say, Alaska, whose temperatures have averaged almost 15 degrees above normal this winter. As meterologists will tell you, the jet stream, which generally keeps things in line, is not looking like it used to look. We are living in a different climate than our parents and grandparents lived.
If anything good is coming out of this frightening climate change, it’s our increased appreciation for everything we love about being outside. This year the Sea Caves at the Apostle Islands opened up for the first time since 2009—and tens of thousands flocked to stand in awe under the spectacular sandstone jaws. No longer can we assume that we will be able to walk around on Lake Superior for a few weeks every winter. Despite the grumblings, I think most would agree that we in the northland live here for a reason; snow is precious to us and critical to our economy. As the Natural Resource Defense Council study points out: “For the winter season there have been all-or-nothing winters—blizzards in some places, only a dusting all season-long in others. These radically divergent weather patterns have been unsettling to those who mark the seasons’ change in the great outdoors. For those whose livelihood depends upon a predictable winter season, such unpredictability and lack of snow can translate into a precipitous fall in revenue, an early economic indicator of what climate change looks like.” (National Resource Defense Council: Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States”).
Our economy, our culture, and our livelihoods are in a period of transformation in response to increasingly urgent and conclusive evidence of climate change. If we continue on in “business as usual” mode, we will find ourselves falling behind other communities and countries that are taking steps to mitigate climate change, and also to adapt and prepare for the effects we feel today—increased extreme and unpredictable weather patterns. Be on the front lines! Help to create the change that will sharply reduce carbon emissions and preserve a semblance of the world we know for our children. Come to the next meeting of the Citizens Climate Lobby from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8. Learn about tried-and-true methods of building political will for a fee on carbon. Our country has done the right thing in the past, and it will do so again. Meetings are at our home at 133 Third Ave. Call us for more information: 834-2432.