Tag Archives: polar vortex

The Polar Vortex Is Dead. But that does not mean it isn't cold out

The term “Polar Vortex” was thrown around a lot last year, in reference to the persistent mass of very cold air that enveloped much of southern Canada and the US. As you will remember, Rush Limbaugh accused climate scientists and librul meteorologists of making up the polar vortex to scare everyone into thinking climate change is real. You may also remember Al Roker pointing out on national TV and on Twitter that the term “polar vortex” has been in meteorology textbooks for decades.

This year, with a new wave of cold air arriving unseasonably in the upper middle part of the US, the term is being used again. I was amused to see the term being used on accuweather such that it was placed on each of several graphics used to show that this year’s cold snap is not actually the polar vortex, unlike last year.

It turns out that while the polar vortex is a real thing, it really is not the correct term to apply to either last year’s cold incursion or the current cold spell. The polar vortex is a thing that gets going in a big way during the norther Winter, and swirls around all vortexy at high altitude over the pole. It can become more or less compact, more or less well defined, and it certainly has a relationship to the weather. But the proper term for a huge bundle of cold air heading south and freezing us out would not be “polar vortex” but rather, something like “cross-polar flow with low-level winds advecting frigid air southward from polar regions” (see this for a great discussion of what the polar vortex is and isn’t). At least in some cases; other descriptions may apply in other cases.

The unseasonable cold air is potentially important, especially if large scale bending of the jet streams that can cause these “troughs” of cold air to move farther south than typical are more common because of global warming (see this).

Anyway, I was wondering exactly how the term was originally introduced into the conversation last winter, so I used google to narrow down its occurrence and found these:

AP, on January 3rd 2014:

Temperature records will likely be broken during the short, yet forceful deep freeze that will begin in many places on Sunday and extend into early next week. That’s thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex — a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air, said Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell.

“All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” he said. “If you’re under 40 (years old), you’ve not seen this stuff before.”

New York Mag, January 4th, 2014:

… there’s something happening in the country called a “polar vortex” or, as Weather Bell meteorologist Ryan Maue called it, a “frigid air blanket.”

Maue said the cold air system is caused by a “counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air, once piled up at the North Pole, and pushed down to the U.S.” It’s expected to arrive Sunday.

Huffington Post, January 3rd, 2014:

Temperature records will likely be broken during the short, yet forceful deep freeze that will begin in many places on Sunday and extend into early next week. That’s thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex — a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air, said Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell.

“All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” he said. “If you’re under 40 (years old), you’ve not seen this stuff before.”

So, the common ingredient in the misuse of the term “polar vortex” is a meteorologist Ryan Maue, of Weather Bell. He’s the one that screwed this up originally and the press kind of took off with it.

You can’t totally blame the press. Given the choice between “polar vortex” and “advecting cross polar flow yadayada” it isn’t a hard choice. If they were both right, and they just didn’t know.

Ryan Maue, by the way, is a climate change science denier. I checked my twitter list of climate change deniers and he is on it. That means he annoyed me on twitter with his climate change science denial yammering. So a science denier came up with this bone headed misuse of a term and the press more or less blindly went along with it.

As my friend Paul Douglas notes, in speaking of the polar vortex problem vis-a-vis our current cold snap “For me the bigger question is will it last? What made last winter’s polar displacement so unusual was its persistence. The bitter blob all but stalled for the better part of 3 months.”

Long term predictions for this winter suggest an average winter, but for many parts of the US a bit warmer than average. So far the weather is not cooperating with the prediction. I predict that the prediction will be wrong because I suspect the models used to make these predictions don’t properly account for the increased frequency of formerly rare phenomena related to the jet streams. But, on the other hand, eventually there is supposed to be a shift to official El Nino conditions. (The Pacific is already El Nino warm, just not acting El Nino-ish in other ways). So, really, I’m predicting a warmer than average winter in the Northern Hemisphere but with the 5% or so of that hemisphere occupied by the largest concentration of climate science deniers, Americans, colder than average. It is like Climate Change doesn’t want to be believed in by Americans. It wears an invisibility cloak.

Hot April, Hot Year?

NASA’s instrumental data set for their Land-Ocean Temperature Index, which goes back to 1880, has updated for April, and it appears that this year’s April is the second hottest on record. Also, we had one of the warmest winters on record, despite appearances to the contrary for those who live under the Polar Vortex. Paul Douglas posted the graphic above showing anomalies relative to a 1981-2010 base period for the months of December through February. Note that there is general warmth across the globe with a few cool spots, including a VERY cold region over North America.

If we do have an El Niño this year, 2014 may be propelled into the record books as one of the hottest years for the last century-plus of careful global measurements of surface temperatures. Remember, this does not count deeper ocean temperatures which combined with surface temperatures are almost certainly higher than ever, because like it or not global warming continues apace.

Climate Matters: Weather Systems Stalling

Paul Douglas from Weather Nation on weather whiplash, the latest on the Polar Vortex, Sochi weather problems. And, the 30-30-30 rule, which is good to know.

Published on Jan 24, 2014
“It seems like the weather, increasingly, is getting stuck.” Meteorologist Paul Douglas explains this weather pattern that seems to be stuck in a rut. Swells, drought and a polar vortex! Learn how it is impacting everywhere from Hawaii/Alaska all the way to Europe. The Winter Olympics may feel more like the Summer Olympics!

Rush Limbaugh and the Liberal Polar Vortex

Here’s the thing: Shauna Theel has a video on the Polar Vortex vs. Rush Limbaugh:

Published on Jan 9, 2014

Media Matters Climate & Energy Program Director Shauna Theel debunks Rush Limbaugh’s conspiracy that the “polar vortex” was created by the media to lie to you about climate change.

Peter Gleick previously posted this Google Ngram on the term “Polar Vortex” and al Roker tweeted about it as well:

Here’s a bigger copy of Peter’s ngram:

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The Polar Vortex Might Be Caused By Al Gore (and other Liberals)

Everyone laughed … earlier today … when Rush Limbaugh claimed that the Polar Vortex, the ginormous weather phenomenon that brought so much cold to Canada and the United States over the last few days, was created by Liberals.

If Liberals can indeed create a planetary-level weather phenomenon like the Polar Vortex, then Liberals are very powerful indeed and should not be messed with. Just sayin’

Anyway, people made fun of Rush Limbaugh for saying this. Peter Gleick, who blogs here, went so far as to tweet a Google ngram he did showing that the peak of use of the term “Polar Vortex” happened way before the recent media frenzy associated with this recent weather event.

But I think Peter missed the point. Rush Limbaugh may be smarter than he looks. Here, I’ve combined the Google ngram for “Polar Vortex” with a red box showing the approximate duration that Bill Clinton and, most notably, Inconvenient Truth author Vice President Al Gore were in the white house. Have a look:

PolarVortexAsLiberalPlot

Clearly, there is a link. The fact that “Polar Vortex” initially peaks before the Clinton-Gore administration is obviously because the Liberals were gaining power during that time, in order to take over the White House.

This certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “Thanks Obama.”

More on weather whiplash and the Polar Vortex

Extreme weather events of all kinds seem to be more common now than they were then. By now I mean the last five to ten years, approximately, and by then I mean … well, before that. This is because of global warming.

The current Colding caused by a wandering Polar Vortex (which I’ve heard Rush Limbaugh has declared to be a liberal plot … thanks Obama!) is probably a result of changes in the nature and configuration of the jet streams and related air masses, as discussed here. Warming caused by the release of fossil carbon, mainly as Carbon Dioxide, has affected the Arctic more than most of the rest of the planet, and this has changed the nature of major air mass movement which, in turn, has disrupted the jet streams, which has caused what we call weather whiplash. If you would like to see an example of weather whiplash, you can probably do so by looking outside because it is happening all over the place all the time. Well, it seems that way anyway. Let’s just say that it is happening often enough that the lack of weather whiplash may well be newsworthy.

Peter Sinclair of the Yale Climate Forum has a post and a new video that puts a lot of this together. Here’s the video:

Hey, if you are local to the Twin Cities, come on over to Stillwater on Monday and we’ll talk about it. Unless you are that one guy who wants to put me on trial and execute me because I think global warming is real! You stay home!


A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
More on climate change HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?

Go home, Arctic, You're Drunk.

If global warming is real, then why is it so cold?

We are hearing this question quite often today and it will be asked many times by many people over the next few days as record low temperatures are set in many parts of the United States. Here in Minnesota, for example, we have a good chance of setting a record low daily high beating the previous record of 14 degrees below zero F. We may or may not beat the record daily low but we are going to get close. (Donald trump is probably the most famous person to have gotten this wrong over the last few days.)

Global warming is real. The apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion. If we look at the local weather in many parts of the US we see a giant blob of cold “Arctic air” moving south to engulf our humble hamlets and cities, as though the Arctic Coldness that we know is sitting on the top of our planet, like a giant frosty hat, is growing in size. How can such a thing happen with global warming?

Actually, if you think about it, how can such a thing happen at all? Imagine a somewhat different scenario. Imagine the giant global hulu-hoop of warmth we know of as the tropics suddenly expanding in size to engulf the United States, Europe, Asia, and in the south, southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, etc. for a week or so, then contract back to where it came from. How could that happen? Where would all the heat necessary for that to happen come from? That seems to be a violation of some basic laws of physics. Now, cold is not a thing — it is the absence of heat — but the same problem emerges when we imagine the giant frosty hat of arctic air simply getting many hundreds of percent larger, enough to engulf the temperate regions of the planet. As easy as it might be to imagine such a thing given the images we see on regional weather maps, it is in fact not possible. The physics simply does not work that way.

What is happening instead is the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. Here in the Twin Cities, it is about 8 below zero F as I write this. If I go north towards the famous locality of International Falls (famous for its cold temperature readings often mentioned on the national news) it will in fact be colder. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again, as we leave the giant blob of cold air that has engulfed us. In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.

The graphic above from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows what is happening. The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion.

So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.

In fact, the cold snap we are experiencing in the middle of the US and adjoining Canada may be because of global warming. The Polar Vortex can go off center any given winter, but we have been having some strange large scale weather activity over the last few years that is thought to be related to global warming and that may have contributed to this particular weather event (explained here). This may be an effect of this strangeness, though the jury is still probably out on this particular weather event.

UPDATE: Chris Mooney has THIS on the drunken Arctic.


Other items of interest: