I'm A Vegan In A Red Midwestern State. What I Wish People Knew About Polar Vortex & Climate

February 19, 2021

I am a blue vegan dot in a red Midwestern state, and I’ve lived here my whole life. One of the reasons I plan to leave is my dislike of the winter. I do not fare well in the cold. Unfortunately for me, this has been one of the most extreme winters I’ve ever endured. We are experiencing wind chills of –32°F and dealing with power outages, on top of maintaining a lifestyle (still) dictated by the pandemic.

Earlier this week, the energy company in my area implemented rolling blackouts—an engineered power shut-down-  and asked that everyone conserve energy by not running any unnecessary electrical appliance (dishwasher, laundry, vacuum, space heater, etc.). Everyone received notice that our thermostats should not be above 68°F. Grocery store shelves ran bare as folks frantically bought candles, batteries, paper products, and canned goods.

I woke up on Tuesday morning and could see my breath inside my apartment. My windowsills had ice on them—on the inside of my home. And this is before my power was shut off. My neighbor’s pipes burst, breaking through his bedroom wall in process. Then the rolling blackouts hit my area. My animals and I went without power for nearly five hours on Tuesday morning. And the wind chill was –25°F at the time.

And most troubling, I am not alone. In fact, I am lucky. Millions of people across the country are facing power outages, unsafe driving conditions, and dangerously low temperatures. The electrical grid in Texas completely failed. Millions are left without safe drinking water. Cracked pipes, frozen wells, and storm water treatment plants falling offline have left many residents living a nightmare. In the city of Kyle, officials have advised that water should only be used to remain alive. People are waiting hours in lines attempting to obtain fuels and provisions.

Some people have died.

Many folks are under the impression that “global warming” simply means that temperatures are increasing. This is inaccurate. But it isn’t surprising that this idea remains pervasive, considering the abundance of misinformation available on the topic. On Monday evening, Donald Trump tweeted about the extreme weather, mocking global warming.

I encourage everyone to be brave enough to acknowledge the truth. Weather remains variable, and snow still falls. It has been flurrying for almost ten days here. Again, that does not mean that global warming is not real: winters are becoming milder overall, and 2020 tied for the warmest year ever recorded with 2016. And that does not mean we should ignore how weather is becoming more extreme.

The polar vortex and a warming world

Science suggests that warmer Arctic temperatures translate into severe winter weather. The polar vortex, or the frigid air at the North Pole, is maintained by a circulating jet stream. Consequently, warming trends are disrupting the jet stream. And when this happens, the vortex weakens, causing the Arctic air to affect regions in the middle latitude. Furthermore, research suggests there is a correlation between the warming world and extreme weather events generally. The link to global warming is apparent when we acknowledge the presence of longer wildfire seasons, highly destructive hurricanes, and a lengthier pollen season.

And yeah, we’ve always had winter snow, fires, floods, and pollen. But climate change fuels natural disasters in ways most simply are not prepared for.

Fortressing ourselves and our loved ones in the face of these disasters is not a viable option for the masses. But I also understand how these problems feel bigger than ourselves. So, I recently discovered John Cox’s Weather for Dummies, a book that Bill Gates praised as the book that most easily explains the climate crisis. Cox’s work is accessible and educates readers about the relationship between global warming and the weather. Perhaps when presented in the right way, folks will be more receptive to the reality we face.

I implore everyone to take these events seriously. Many Texas residents are regaining power, but extreme weather will continue until we begin to take climate change seriously. We are stronger together.

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Photo: Josh Hild via Unsplash

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