Pittsburrrgh: The Arctic Blast in the U.S.

Angela McKinzie ‘21, Staff Writer

Bring out the winter coats and pack on the layers–the polar vortex is here and it is making its presence known. The occurrence of stratospheric warming in the Arctic Circle area has pushed the polar vortex south, bombarding the United States with unfathomable cold temperatures and bizarre weather.

You must be wondering: What is a polar vortex? A polar vortex is a weather system that centralizes the coldest air in the northern hemisphere over polar regions during the winter season. The freezing air regularly reaches southern Canada, the northern Plains, the Midwest, and northern portions of the United States. Its effects are commonly felt in these areas and happen every period of winter. However, climate change has demonstrated its irrefutable impact by pushing the polar vortex in 2019 to all new heights, with the weather system expanding lower than ever before because of stratospheric warming that has displaced the centralized frigid air.

Long-lasting winters are no stranger to the North East, but even they, like states who rarely experience a harsh winter, were taken aback by the record-breaking negative temperature and incessant snowfall. In the Midwest, several states experienced cold-outbreaks that rivaled those set two decades before. For instance, Illinois broke their record of minus 36 degrees in Mount Carroll on Jan. 31 with minus 38 degrees. In Cotton, Minnesota, the temperature was minus 56 degrees and could have beaten the record of minus 60 degrees if it weren’t for some morning fog. Across the states of Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana, 16 deaths were reported as well as 50 frostbite cases in Chicago as a result of the bone chilling cold.  

Though there weren’t as low temperatures, Pittsburgh experienced lows of minus 26 along with sporadic blizzards in all the counties. Like Oakland Catholic, school districts had to close for 2-3 days due to the inclement weather. In addition, some businesses had to adjust store hours or close completely in anticipation of snow storms or hazardous road conditions.

Now that we are on the downswing of the weather caused by the polar vortex, things are gradually starting to return back to normal with the occasional flurries and moderate wind chill. Even though it is not quite the time to hang up our winter coats, the smell of spring is faintly just around the corner.