Frigid polar vortex takes over Midwest, but climate change might not be to blame

Graphic by Emma Li

Many 5C students lamented the cold weather and rain that hit Claremont and the surrounding Los Angeles area this week. And although 50 degrees and cloud cover is unusual for Southern California, no one has been hit harder by the elements this January than those living in the Midwest or on the East Coast.

The polar vortex that struck the eastern half of the U.S. starting last week has claimed the lives of more than 24 people, according to The Guardian. These low temperatures stem from a cold blast of air being pushed south from the North Pole.

At certain points last week, parts of Illinois were colder than Antarctica. Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota recorded extremely low temperatures. Many schools, including colleges and universities, closed their doors temporarily, as it was too cold for students to even be walking outside.

Some of these campuses, like the University of Minnesota or North Dakota State, are miles wide, so harsh weather proved to be hazardous for those who needed to walk outside to get to and from their classes and dorm rooms, according to the University of Minnesota.

Susanna Barrett SC ’19 is from St. Louis, which has also been hit by the polar vortex. Her younger sister attends Knox College, located in northwestern Illinois, where school closed for a day last week. In states where cold weather and lots of snow are expected each winter, these closures are particularly unusual and are a result of these record-low temperatures. According to her sister, the school hasn’t closed due to cold weather since the 1970s.

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Some scientists argue that the cold spell is simply a result of cold weather rather than a shift in climate, according to BBC News.

And while cold temperatures sweep the nation, it may seem counterintuitive that the planet is still warming up. However, some scientists believe that as climate change progresses, these storms and cold spells will also continue, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.

Emma Stacy SC ’19, a resident of St. Paul, says she remembers there being a polar vortex during her senior year of high school; when that happens, you “can’t really go outside.” She said the cold weather makes daily commutes difficult as people are advised not to drive or leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

In the next week, temperatures in some places are expected to rise by 80 degrees. While this may be exciting for those who have been hiding out indoors, it has the potential to cause more havoc, and could lead to burst pipes, flooding rivers and crumbling roads.

Caitlyn Fick SC ’19 is a chemistry major who enjoys mountains, trees, water and dogs.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota had the lowest temperatures ever last week. Though they were extremely low, they were not record-breaking. TSL regrets this error.
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