The Midwest found itself assailed by winter conditions of mythic proportions in the final week of January. With Chicago reaching colder temperatures than parts of Antarctica (according to USA Today) and 21 dead across the country due to the extreme temperatures, the weather is far from a standard cold front. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), temperatures in Chicago reached as low as -23. While not historically the coldest in the city (-27 in 1985), it did break records of the coldest daily low and high point, which were previously -15 and +3 from 1966 (as recorded by the National Weather Service.) The windchill made the situation even worse, with feels like temperatures plummeting under -50.
This led to cars being unable to start, the Chicago River freezing, homeless shelters filling to capacity and more than 50 people being treated for frostbite. Across the country, schools called off classes and workplaces shut down as citizens braved a week of negative numbers. Meanwhile, on the other side of Lake Michigan in Holland, things were not much better. Classes were canceled at 5:41 a.m. Monday, with classes resuming Tuesday. However, classes were again canceled at 2:34 p.m. on Tuesday, which took effect at 3 p.m. through Thursday morning. A subsequent email at 6:11 p.m. on Wednesday notified students that the campus would not reopen until 11 a.m. on Thursday.
With Wednesday’s feels like temperatures of -24 and wind-gusts of over 20 mph, the warnings seemed well advised. Indeed, a winter storm warning had been issued for the nearby metropolis of Grand Rapids. Still, this extreme cold snap did little to deter students from attempting to enjoy the conditions. With the extra free time, students took to sledding, snowball fights, snow angels and rumors of frat boys jumping into the snow shirtless. The lattermost activity is recommended under no circumstances and not endorsed by this publication. What differentiates this winter storm from most previous ones is that it constitutes a “polar vortex.” According to the NOAA’s “SciJinks” website: “A polar vortex is a low-pressure area—a wide expanse of swirling cold air—that is parked in Polar Regions. During winter, the polar vortex at the North Pole expands, sending cold air southward.
This happens fairly regularly and is often associated with outbreaks of cold temperatures in the United States.” Furthermore, an associated article states that while there is not fully conclusive evidence that man-made conditions have caused more splintering of these vortexes, it is reasonable to suspect they may become more common. This was indicated by Third National Climate Assessment, which points to a rising intensity and frequency of winter storm across middle and high latitudes. Because this past week was the largest number of days in the same weeks off since the infamous norovirus outbreak of 2008, one can conclude that there is unlikely to be more days off in the future, unless conditions return to that of the fierce winter tempest.