Blowing hot blowing cold

Polar vortex chilled spines across the US and much of the world, and gave a fillip to global warming sceptics.

Updated: January 18, 2014 11:37 pm

Polar vortex chilled spines across the US and much of the world, and gave a fillip to global warming sceptics. But that isn’t the only extreme weather making news in several corners, 20 days into the new year


As North America froze, Europe experienced unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius in Switzerland. Adelboden recorded its hottest January since 1967. The Women’s World Cup races scheduled for January 25-26 in the German resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen were cancelled because of a lack of snow. Britain’s western coast was lashed by high winds and strong rains in January, making December the windiest since 1969. Monster waves up to 27 ft high washed across the British coast on January 7, prompting evacuations. Cliffs have crumbled, while more than 100 flood warnings have come in.


From the north to the south, the big chill swept the US, bringing sub-zero temperatures as far as Florida, sending Chicago shivering at -24 degrees, and halting everything from water pipes to flights, and freezing fuel to glycol. In Nashville, Tennesse, a performer discovered a mandolin could crack in freezing air, while a Wisconsin meteorologist put up a video of boiling water turning into snow instantly. Flight cancellations also occurred as airlines could not allow ground crews outdoors for more than 15 minutes at a time. Demand for heat pushed the price of natural gas to 10 or 12 times. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Catholic bishops were calling for divine intervention to help California escape its third straight dry winter. Reservoirs dipped to historic lows after one of the driest calendar years on record.


The landscape is changing courtesy the unusually warm weather in this remote region of Russia. In some areas, ice and snow are being replaced by heavy rain and grass. Many lakes and rivers, normally ice-bound at this time of year, are flowing freely. The northern city of Verkhoyansk, that has average maximum temperatures of -47 degrees C, was 14 degrees C warmer in December. This month winter set in finally, but is not expected to last. Back in July, Norilsk, the most northerly city in the world, recorded temperatures above 28 degrees C for eight consecutive days. In Tomsk, locals recently paraded in swim wear to mock the ‘warm’ weather.


Bats are dropping from trees, kangaroos are collapsing in the Outback and gardens are turning brown. New heat records are being set after Australia saw its hottest year ever in 2013. The scorching heat brought play to a halt on January 16 at the Australian Open. Since December 27, records have been set at 34 locations where temperature data has been collected for at least 40 years. The late arrival of the monsoon in northern Australia is contributing to the heat, with a damaging effect on wildlife.

South America

Brazil is sizzling, and with the heat index sometimes soaring above 49 degrees Celsius, keepers at the Rio de Janeiro zoo are giving animals ice pops. In neighbouring Argentina, where hundreds of dead fish floated in a lake in Buenos Aires, there have been protests over power outages. Alejandro Perez, director of the 3 de Febrero Park where the dead fish were found, said the high temperatures had stolen oxygen from water life.

Smart phone manufacturers don’t recommend that their devices be used in extreme weathers. Apple, in fact, takes guarantee for its iPhones only between 0 degrees and 35 degrees Celsius temperatures. Samsung guarantees its phones to function between -20 and 40 degrees Celsius. HTC and Nokia do not mention temperature guidelines in user manuals or websites. The breaking point for all phones, according to one test, is -40 degrees Celsius.


The most severe cold snap in the US in 20 years had people questioning whether the Earth’s climate is in fact warming, including a Texas Senator and Donald Trump. Climate change advocate Al Gore came in for especially harsh criticism. But, according to climate scientists, the weather does not invalidate prevailing climate models. The reactions to polar vortex suggest that “people have forgotten what cold is like,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with NASA. “How surprising people find this cold is because things are becoming warmer.”

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