Both this month and three years ago, Maine has suffered from frigid, polar winds, caused by changes in the polar vortex. Cold Arctic air dipped down much further south than usual and froze pipes and doubled energy bills here. There is still some scientific debate about this, but climate scientists suspect that climate change is causing these extreme cold events.

You can read a recent Scientific American report on this by searching online for “Dreaded polar vortex may be shifting,” but here is the gist of it.

The media describe a polar vortex as an incursion of frigid, surface air from the North Pole into the U.S. It is strongly influenced by the jet stream, which is a very fast, high-altitude wind that used to circle tightly around the North Pole, because of the extreme difference in temperature between the Pole and the equator. However,Arctic ice is fast disappearing, and sunlight being absorbed by the newly exposed ocean has caused temperatures in the Arctic to rise dramatically. The resulting decrease in temperature differential is causing the jet stream to dip down south, bringing the cold polar vortex air with it.

This means that we are likely to get many more polar, frigid spells in the future. However, climate change also makes weather patterns less stable and less predictable, so it seems likely that we will not get this polar vortex effect every year.

The more our climate warms, the more surprises we run into, and some of them are not pleasant (more polar vortexes, heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding; stronger hurricanes and tornadoes). Maybe it is time that we insist that our politicians stop ignoring these risks, and do something about it.

Richard Thomas


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