Science Saturday: Polar Vortex
Much like our own world, the world of Chronsylvania is full of strange natural phenomena. Every week we'll highlight an article that explores the odd, and very real, scientific properties of our universe. We'll also leave you with a writing/drawing prompt based on the article to get your creative juices flowing.
If you were affected by the stunningly low temperatures recently, then this week's article just might bring an unwelcomly frigid tingle back to your toes. The article from the Verge, written by Cassandra Willyard, explains some of the meterological principles at play behind the Polar Vortex that gripped a large percentage of the United States during the last week of January. In addition to explaining some of the root causes of this weather phenomenon, the article also attempts to peer into the future to see what other unexpected effects climate change might bring about.
People often ask, "If it's called global warming, how could it cause colder temperatures?" Because we live in a complex world made up of complex systems, the answer defies simple explanation. But there is an explanation.
The Polar Vortex is a system of winds that whip around the North Pole. These winds have always existed and are caused by the temperature difference between the North Pole and tropical regions. The larger the difference in temperature, the faster the winds swirl. The faster the winds swirl, the more likely they are to remain contained within the Arctic.
But as climate change warms the planet, the North pole is now warming more quickly in relation to tropical areas which causes the Polar Vortex to slow down and become less stable. This lack of stability makes it more likely that swaths of the Polar Vortex will break off and head south, plummeting temperatures in latitudes further south.
So basically, because the planet overall is growing warmer, we may see more and more frequent blasts of cold weather as the Polar Vortex becomes less stable. But even that, according to the several meteorologists interviewed in the article, is no guarantee. Steven Vavrus, a climate scientest at The University of Wisconsin in Madison says, “The climate system is extremely complicated. So to simplify it this much — to say that a warming Arctic equals more cold air outbreaks — is pushing the limits of understanding the system. There’s all these other factors going on.”
Which is exactly what makes predicting the long-term effects of climate change so difficult. As a result of the climate effects we have seen in the past five years, phrases most people had never seen or heard, have begun to enter the common lexicon. Phrases like, "Polar Vortex," "Weather Whiplash," and "Climate Chaos."
Many scientists believe that climate change will bring further stark variations in weather such as the polar vortex and more intense thunderstorms. However, because weather systems are so complex, and their are so many constantly-shifting variables, including carbon-emission levels, predicting what the climate of a given region might look like a decade or two down the road is becoming an increasingly difficult task.
As our local climates become less predictable, we will face new challenges brought on by shifting weather. And just like the challenges themselves, the manner in which we attempt to foresee and solve those challenges is highly uncertain.
Maybe it's time we start dreaming up some solutions.
Like right now.
Creative Prompt: You are driving down the road when an urgent voice comes over the radio. "Attention," the voice says in an anxious baritone, "we have just received word that an extreme cold snap will be entering our area within the next three hours. Temperatures will dip well below -20 degrees Fahrenheit, coupled with blizzard-like snowfall and winds in excess of 50 miles per hour. At this time we are unable to predict how long this weather will last."
Write or draw about what you will do within the three hours before the storm hits.
Then, write or draw about what you will do on the second day of the storm.
The fifth day.
The two-hundred and eighty first.
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