The Midwest is known to harbor cold winters, however last week saw the most extreme cold temperatures Valpo seen in decades.
Last week, a dip in the polar vortex occurred. A polar vortex, in the most simple of terms, is a large area of cold air that resides above both the north and south poles every day of the year. In the winter, the polar vortex can become less stable, causing it to break into “smaller pods.” It was one of these smaller sections that impacted the Midwest last week.
The polar vortex can be compared to a balloon. This balloon of cold air was guided into our area by a large trough and its associated jet stream. According to the American Meteorological Society’s definition, a trough is “an elongated area of relatively low atmospheric pressure,” while the jet stream is an area of “relatively strong winds concentrated within a narrow stream in the atmosphere.” The jet stream acted like a hair dryer, and blew the balloon of cold air (advected it) into our area.
The polar vortex caused a number of cities to reach record low temperatures. In Chicago, temperatures reached -23 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the lowest it has been in 34 years. Rockford, Ill. also broke their record low temperature, hitting a low of -31 degrees Fahrenheit.
In Valpo, the weather bottomed out officially at -19 degrees. These frigid temperatures were exacerbated by moderately strong winds, resulting in a wind chill of -47 degrees on the morning of Jan. 30. At that point, anyone with exposed skin would be in need of medical attention to treat oncoming frostbite within five minutes.
The below freezing temperatures, frigid wind chill and probable frostbite are the main reasons why Valpo was not in session last Wednesday and Thursday.
Frostbite, the main hazard with this type of arctic outbreak, occurs when your skin and the underlying tissue freeze. Frostbite is most common on your extremities, such as your fingers, toes, face (specifically nose and cheeks) and ears.
The first symptoms of the early stages of frostbite are a red tint to the skin as well as an associated feeling of prickling in the exposed area. If not treated, the skin will become pale and numb, eventually turning black as the joints and muscles stop working.
The best way to prevent getting frostbite is to avoid going outside during these cold outbreaks. However, if you must venture out, attempt to cover all exposed skin as well as wear multiple layers of clothing to prevent to cold from causing damage.
Though these were abnormal temperatures, even for this time of year, it does not indicate whether or not there is climate change. The same is true for when we had the record breaking heat wave last summer. These are anomalies, not trends. Weather is short term, while climate is long term. Seasonal and yearly averages are what are looked at in climate change research. This is done specifically to avoid anomalous events, such as dips in the polar vortex. These meteorological averages can be found on the National Weather Service’s website, weather.gov.
If you have any further meteorological questions, feel free to reach out to the VUTV Weather Department and watch their new show, Weather With Blake and Heather.