Alleged news from the South Arctic Circle

The Associated Press claims:

It might seem counterintuitive, but the dreaded “polar vortex” is bringing its icy grip to the Midwest thanks to a sudden blast of warm air in the Arctic.

Get used to it. The polar vortex has been wandering more often in recent years.

It all started with misplaced Moroccan heat. Last month, the normally super chilly air temperatures 20 miles above the North Pole rapidly rose by about 125 degrees (70 degrees Celsius), thanks to air flowing in from the south. It’s called “sudden stratospheric warming.”

That warmth split the polar vortex, leaving the pieces to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.

“Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air,” Cohen said.

By Wednesday morning, one of those pieces will be over the Lower 48 states for the first time in years. The forecast calls for a low of minus 21 degrees (minus 29 Celsius) in Chicago and wind chills flirting with minus 65 degrees (minus 54 Celsius) in parts of Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.

The unusual cold could stick around another eight weeks, Cohen said.

“The impacts from this split, we have a ways to go. It’s not the end of the movie yet,” Cohen said. “I think at a minimum, we’re looking at mid-February, possibly through mid-March.”

Americans were introduced to the polar vortex five years ago. It was in early January 2014 when temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees (minus 27 Celsius) in Chicago and meteorologists, who used the term for decades, started talking about it on social media.

This outbreak may snap some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground. …

Some scientists — but by no means most — see a connection between human-caused climate change and difference in atmospheric pressure that causes slower moving waves in the air.

“It’s a complicated story that involves a hefty dose of chaos and an interplay among multiple influences, so extracting a clear signal of the Arctic’s role is challenging,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. Several recent papers have made the case for the connection, she noted.

“This symptom of global warming is counterintuitive for those in the cross-hairs of these extreme cold spells,” Francis said in an email. “But these events provide an excellent opportunity to help the public understand some of the ‘interesting’ ways that climate change will unfold.”

Others, like Furtado, aren’t sold yet on the climate change connection.

Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini, who has already felt temperatures that seem like 25 degrees below zero, said there’s “a growing body of literature” to support the climate connection. But he says more evidence is needed.

“Either way,” Gensini said, “it’s going to be interesting being in the bullseye of the Midwest cold.”

So the AP strongly hints that something that has happened twice in this decade is the fault of magical climate change, which causes hot, cold, dry and wet weather.

I am not a climate scientist, but I think two events in five years does not necessarily constitute a trend. Up until the last week, this was a pleasantly mild winter, compared to the much worse winter of 2013–14, the first time the hateful phrase “polar vortex” entered the lexicon. (The 2013–14 cold was blamed on snow in Siberia the previous October.)

One of the things I do in my day(s-ending-in-Y) job is to list the record high and low temperatures each week. Since I have been doing that the past seven years, we have had 10 days of record or record-tying highs, and nine nights of record or record-tying lows. Is that really a trend?

We haven’t had a really bad winter since that 2013–14 winter, which, by the way, set zero cold-temperature records in Presteblog World Headquarters. Did the polar vortex cause the –51 temperature in Lone Rock Jan. 30, 1951? That was the coldest temperature in the nation that day, leading to the U.S. 14 sign “Coldest in the Nation with the Warmest Heart,” accompanied by a polar bear.

How about the –55 in Couderay Feb. 2 and 4, 1996? That was seven months after record highs throughout Wisconsin, including one dog’s-breath day where Appleton had the nation’s highest heat index, 140. How about the days in January 1936 when record lows were set, six months before record highs (including the state’s all-time record high, 114 in Wisconsin Dells July 13, 1936)?

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s predictions for the next six to 10 days …

… eight to 14 days …

… three to four weeks …

… and overall the next month …

… indicate a trend toward colder weather, but not a hugely strong trend.

This is an example of agenda journalism — deciding what the story is about and finding evidence for your position, instead of finding out whether this is really unprecedented weather. (Check the winters of 1977 through 1979, which were horrible and far worse than anything this year.) And the national media wonders why it’s lost credibility with its readers, listeners and viewers.


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