What is the polar vortex? It sounds terrifying, but in fact, the polar vortex is a stable and important part of Earth’s climate. Polar vortexes are areas of low pressure and extremely cold air that always exist around the Earth’s poles—the one that is affecting Midwesterners this winter is usually found surrounding the north pole, but conditions including global warming have caused it to move outside its normal region.
The north polar vortex has recently been known to become distorted or even split in pieces, which was the case with the 2014 polar vortex that many Midwesterners can remember. This year’s polar vortex also broke apart into several pieces, one of which was able to travel down to the midwest and cause the extremely cold temperatures. It takes two weeks for a polar vortex to impact weather, and it can continue its impact on the weather for up to 8 weeks.
The intrusion of warm air into the polar vortex causes it to react differently than usual, which can lead to the distortion and splitting that causes unusual weather patterns. Overall, there’s a lot more research to be done, but there have been proven correlations between an increasingly warm global climate and disruptions in the polar vortex. Although it may seem counterintuitive for global warming to cause cold weather, many scientists believe the disruption of the polar vortex is directly connected to an increased global climate.
The polar vortex has caused its fair share of issues for Lawrentians and the Appleton community. During the fifth week of winter term, Lawrence cancelled classes on Monday, Jan. 28, Wednesday, Jan. 30 and classes until noon on Thursday, Jan. 31 due to extreme snow conditions and freezing temperatures. Class cancellations are rare occurrences, since terms are so short and faculty plan their coursework very precisely. Missing these classes have caused catastrophe for some, with deadlines, exams and planned events being moved into very irregular schedules. In the midst of midterm season, losing valuable class time and office hours with professors have proved to be a disaster for some.
The true champions of these chilly days are the faculty and staff at Lawrence. Food services, campus safety and security, maintenance staff and several other Lawrence staff members braced the risky cold, and continued to provide food and safety to the student body. While we should celebrate these people every day for making Lawrence the best it can be, these members of our Lawrence family deserve your kindness and appreciation for making incredible sacrifices for us. Faculty members are also to thank, since they have been working hard to alleviate student troubles, adjust deadlines and assignment timelines and even still show up for their scheduled office hours to help students.
The most important thing to keep in mind during these winter weather disasters is to stay inside as much as possible. Make the most out of your time indoors by spending time with friends, catching up on work or getting some extra rest. If you do go outside, it is necessary to dress in layers and cover as much skin as possible to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. If you see someone down College Ave sitting in the cold, try pointing them in the direction of shelters or giving them some money to buy hats, gloves and food. Thank those around you for how they help you through each day, and stay warm!