Polar Vortex to Blame for US Deep Freeze

'Compound extreme weather events' are becoming more common
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 16, 2021 6:24 PM CST
Polar Vortex to Blame for US Deep Freeze
Icicles form on a citrus tree from a sprinkler system used to protect the trees from the freezing temperatures on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Edinburg, Texas.   (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP)

Meteorologists blame the historic chilly weather on a large disruption of the polar vortex with Arctic weather that’s normally kept penned near the North Pole, but has now escaped and sent cold temperatures south. Experts say this polar vortex is stronger and longer than usual, and these events are happening twice as often as they used to. They say it could be a mix of natural weather variations and human-caused climate change, but they're not sure. the AP reports. Events including the widespread failure of the power grid in Texas show how vulnerable America is to extreme weather—both hot and cold—which increases with climate change, scientists say.

“One thing that Texas situation highlights is that we are likely to deal with more compound extreme weather events—multiple event weather systems that have cascading impacts on society and our infrastructure,” according to University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd. Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin, says the Texas electric grid fell victim to a cold spell that was longer, deeper, and more widespread than the state had seen in decades. "The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see," he says "We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have." Climate change should be factored in, too, he says.

(Read more polar vortex stories.)

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