Making sense of the polar vortex and record cold on a feverish planet

This article discusses the polar vortex and record cold on a feverish planet. Record cold on a warming planet may seem contradictory. It’s not.

The author, Richard Rood, is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Michigan.

A few years ago, the “polar vortex” surged into the public language of weather and climate change. Now, in 2019, when I ask my students to describe a cold wave in Michigan, they immediately talk about the vortex coming down from the pole. The story continues: The polar vortex is surrounded by the jet stream; the jet stream is getting more wavy; it is more wavy because of climate change, and likely, the loss of Arctic sea ice.

This is a concise narrative, reasonably extracted from news reports and knowledgeable scientists. As with most concise narratives of complex situations, there is a core of truths, surrounded by a quagmire of confused details.

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