As summer fades, the tips of leaves are lit with vibrant colors. Everything is a shock of red, orange, and yellow against azure skies quilted in folding gray clouds. I was tromping across the quad, ignoring the orderly sidewalks, with my head tilted back to watch the leaves as they floated and drifted in an intertwining waltz with the gusts of winds.
And then one day, the trees are all bare–I can never pinpoint when exactly this shift happens. Their spindly arms are naked and exposed. The air chills. Sweaters and jackets are hugged close as memories from the 2013-2014 winter surface once again.
Does polar vortex ring a bell?
The main memory that sticks out for me from that winter was when I’d walk to my Glaciers and Climate Change class at 7:50 AM. The wan dawn sky was muted, and the air bit so ferociously that as soon as I stepped on the porch, my nose would get this shrinking and stiffening feeling from my boogers instantly freezing.
Those winds us Midwesterners experienced that winter were, quite literally, from the actual arctic.
The air current that circulates around the North Pole is crazy cold and keeps the ice sheets frozen. And usually it stays up there, but the polar vortex winter was caused by this arctic air current (the infamous polar vortex) becoming wobbly and unstable, which caused it to spill some of that frigid air where it shouldn’t be.
This normally contained air lost its balance because of climate change like when a group of kids are playing ring around the Rosie and one sweaty hand slips from a grip.
As the global temperature rises, that steady, circulating air is becoming unpredictable and sloshing out cold air in response to the different atmospheric conditions.
That polar vortex winter was a unique event. That’s not stopping lots of people from using this new word to describe anytime it’s cold, such as right now, the 2nd week in November, because the northern latitudes of the US are experiencing snow storms earlier than usual.
My good friend Steve, who lives in Marquette, sent a picture of a foot of snow, and he victoriously declared he has a snow day today. In November.
And a couple weeks ago, my sister, Sophia, and her boyfriend in Maine had a snow day as well.
But it’s not the polar vortex’s fault this time. Yes, the cold is coming from the North, but this wintery spell is from other air patterns.
There is a low-pressure system hanging out in the Pacific from a tropical storm, and it’s creating a ridge of high pressure near Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The high-pressure ridge is acting like a funnel, redirecting (rather than spilling) the Arctic air down Canada and into the northern U.S., which results in the unseasonably cold weather.
It feels like those arctic winds are back, but they aren’t. This time around we can’t blame the polar vortex for our frozen boogies.