In late January, mid-western regions of the United States were met with frigid air from the North Pole. Normally, there is a jet stream that travels fast enough to keep the polar vortex stationary in the stratosphere above the North Pole, but the weakening of the jet stream split the polar vortex into two causing sub-zero temperatures across the U.S and Canada.
Illinois, Iowa and other mid-western states experienced the worst of the polar vortex and, as a result, had to be shut down due to the deadly weather. According to BBC news, across the U.S, the polar vortex affected 250 million Americans, and around 90 million Americans have witnessed weather below 17 degrees.
In Illinois, the temperature hit as low as 23 below zero in Chicago and was predicted to drop even lower while the Des Moines office of the National Weather Service described the weather as “record-breaking cold air temperatures, with wind chill values not seen in the 21st century in Iowa.”
Along with the harsh temperatures, Americans in the midwest had to face the unprecedented after effects of the Polar vortex:
In many states, Americans were told to limit their time outside and warned to limit talking due to the weather. Residents of Des Moines, Iowa specifically were warned by the National Weather Service to “avoid taking deep breaths, minimize talking and to keep mouths covered” to protect their lungs from the severely cold air.
Specifically in Chicago, the weather was so cold that train operators had to set fire to commuter rail tracks to keep them moving. According to City Lab, this is not a new phenomenon as conductors have set fire to tracks in the past to prevent “pull aparts” or bolts flying, cracks forming or rails breaking and separating due to the cold.
Although The U.S. Postal Service vows to deliver mail to all Americans no matter what weather, they announced a disruption in mail delivery in the midst of the horrendous weather in order to ensure the safety of their employees.
In light of the situation, people have been throwing cups of boiling water in the air to see the liquid immediately turning into crystals, which is also known as the boiling water challenge. However, the challenge seems to be harming people almost as much as the polar vortex is. By attempting the boiling water challenge, many challengers have ended up in hospitals with injuries to their bodies with varying degrees of burns.
According to the National Pest Management Association, the polar vortex may have killed off over 95 percent of stink bugs that had not found shelter during the winter. Other insects such as the emerald ash borer and southern pine beetle have been highly affected by the weather as well.
Frost quakes, or “cryoseisms,” are loud booms at the surface of the earth that occurred during the polar vortex. According to geologist Steven Battaglia, these frost quakes were created by the cooling of the saturated soil which allowed “the ice in the ground [to] expand rapidly enough to create a loud boom noise at the surface.”
To conclude, the polar vortex has set record breaking low temperatures for this year and have caused around 21 deaths and even more injuries in the U.S. Although the surface level effects of the polar vortex are quite prominent, there are many after effects that have been observed in several communities that are important to note.