This week we have seen bizarre global weather patterns popping up in numerous regions. One that has specifically gained the attention of the internet and Environmental Scientists is the freezing temperatures and perpetual snow storms in Texas. Texas is a state that is warm for the predominant portion of the year and hardly ever if ever, sees snow. So, why did this happen?
Arctic Polar Vortex
According to the National Weather Service, the Arctic Polar Vortex is, “a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the Earth’s North and South poles.” This ensures that the cooler atmospheric air stays in close proximity to these regions rather than encroaching near the equator. During the winter, this vortex expands and becomes less stable as regional temperatures drop and send cold Arctic air southward over the United States with the jet stream. This is not a rare occurrence and happens annually.
However, this year we saw modified and unusual weather patterns that instigated snow in states like Texas and Alabama. Parts of Texas even hit their coldest temperature ever recorded, 0F (-18C). Although it sounds contradictory, scientists explain that as global temperatures increase, erratic weather patterns like this subsequently become more prevalent; there is an increase in frequency and intensity of such events. National Geographic more understandably explains this process as a ribbon or stream: “The waviness of the ribbon depends at least in part on how much hotter it is down south than it is at the pole. When the difference is large, the jet stream sticks to a fairly straight path. But when the difference is smaller—say, when the Arctic is really warm, and the ‘hill’ down which the air is falling is less steep—the jet stream can go from sort of straight to loopy.” This is exactly what happened this year in Texas. Due to the Arctic’s temperature increase, the vortex became highly unstable and dipped further south than ever before. Environmental scientists are suggesting that phenomenon’s like the Jetstream impairment will only become more frequent and persist annually.
Other Detrimental Effects
Not only are the citizens of Texas facing unimaginably frigid temperatures, but their homes are also experiencing the effects. According to the Washington Post, “With temperatures in the low teens for days, the state, despite its dominant energy sector, saw rolling power outages turn into a prolonged blackout that left more than 4 million people in the dark and cold.” Estates in the deep south that never experience such weather were not built to sustain it and are, quite literal, crumbling under the pressure. In addition, lower-income communities are disproportionately affected by these changes. In total, 21 people have died as a direct result of water shortages and glacial temperatures. Finally, the extreme temperatures and utility impairments caused detrimental effects, not to mention the economic toll expected to be more than $1 billion.
Borunda, Alejandra. “Snow in Texas and Ice in Alabama? Bizarre Cold Weather Could Become More Common.” Science, National Geographic, 10 Feb. 2021, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/arctic-blast-polar-vortex-cold-weather-climate.
“The Science behind the Polar Vortex: You Might Want to Put on a Sweater.” The Science behind the Polar Vortex: You Might Want to Put on a Sweater | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, http://www.noaa.gov/multimedia/infographic/science-behind-polar-vortex-you-might-want-to-put-on-sweater.
Taylor, Adam. “Analysis | Texas’s Cold-Weather Catastrophe Is a Global Warning.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Feb. 2021, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/02/18/texas-cold-global-climate-change/.
“US Cold Snap: Why Is Texas Seeing Arctic Temperatures?” BBC News, BBC, 15 Feb. 2021, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56058372.