It’s freezing in America!

A man's eyebrows and eye lashes are frozen as temperatures dropped to -29 degrees C on January 30, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. AFP

The United States is in the grip of a particularly brutal winter, with temperatures in parts of the American Midwest plunging to below minus 50 degrees Celsius. Indeed, temperatures in cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and North Dakota have plunged so low that the weather in Antarctica seems balmy in comparison. The bone-biting cold that has descended on the Midwest is predicted to move eastward in the coming days. Chicago, where temperatures dropped to minus 47 degrees earlier this week, is so cold that railway crews are setting tracks on fire to keep the trains moving. Even in the usually warm Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi, people are struggling with icy temperatures. The US National Weather Services has warned the public to avoid going out, even talking or breathing deeply. Emergency has been declared in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Alabama and Mississippi. While more fortunate Americans have the means to bundle themselves up in layers of clothing and stay indoors in centrally-heated homes, the poor and homeless are bearing the brunt of the cold snap; at least 20 people have died so far and the toll can be expected to rise in the coming days as cases of pneumonia, acute frostbite and gangrene are reported.

The unusually cold weather in the US has triggered a heated debate on climate change. Climate sceptics like US President Donald Trump are saying that the extreme cold weather indicates that global warming is not happening. Their argument is deeply flawed. For one, weather and climate are not the same. Besides, cold weather doesn’t disprove global warming. Climate change experts are drawing attention to the many extreme weather events that are happening in different parts of the world as evidence of climate change. Consider this: the US is facing an unusually cold winter. Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Australia is practically being baked in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius this year.

Climate scientists are attributing the ultra-cold weather in the US to a cold snap known as the polar vortex. This mass of frigid polar air usually circulates above the North Pole and with the Arctic experiencing higher temperatures and ice in the polar regions shrinking alarmingly, changes in the jet stream have caused the polar vortex to buckle. This has resulted in the polar vortex splitting up and spilling out from the polar regions. It is said to have bulged into the American Midwest this year, causing temperatures to plunge to unprecedented levels. The extreme cold that the US is experiencing this year is yet another reminder that global warming and climate change are not distant problems but challenges we need to address now, and robustly.

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It’s freezing in America!


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