Tri-C Students Brave the Winter Vortex
By Natalie Gasper
West Staff Reporter
Everyone in Cleveland knows the age-old adage “Don’t like the weather? Wait 15 minutes” is so very true around here. But no one was expecting the delightful bout of below freezing temperatures that passed through about a month ago, or the triple-storm system to kick start the month of February.
This has been one of the harshest winters to date, here and across the nation. Tri-C, not well-known for snow days, but was forced to shut its doors on three separate occasions since the New Year due to the extreme and unsafe conditions.
If you think it was bad here, imagine the faces of Atlanta residents when they gazed at the skies and saw snow beginning to fall. Mere inches descended there, but that was all it took to close highways, schools, and local businesses and stranding some people in their cars overnight.
All of these unusually frigid conditions were caused by something scientists refer to as a polar vortex. A polar vortex is a large relentless cyclone that is centered near one of Earth’s poles. It sits in the mid-upper troposphere and stratosphere which is where most of our weather forms. Spanning no more than about 600 miles, the cold, low-pressure air rotates counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, an effect of the Coriolis Effect.
The most common locations for the vortex centers in the north are Baffin Island and northeast Siberia. As a general rule, polar vortexes are weaker in the summer and stronger in the winter, but its strength often depends on events that occur months, or hundreds of miles away.
Often, these are in the tropics in the summer. An increase in volcanic eruptions can affect the intensity of a vortex for as long as a two year duration. It is easy to think of the two centers like spinning bicycle spokes. The center that sits over Baffin Island followed its yearly pattern, but this time with amped up force, caused it to reach further south and create colder temperatures and winter storms where January normally sees warm and sun.
This is not the first time that the effects of a polar vortex have been this noticeable. Some of our older students may remember the winter of 1985 when temperatures dropped to as low as -60 F, providing a wind chill in the eastern US of -18 F in Cleveland, and 7 F near Jacksonville, Fla. Lucky for everyone, it is unlikely that another set of below-freezing temperatures will make themselves known again this year. This doesn’t mean that we are out of the clear all together, as early February brought more snow accumulation, dangerous driving conditions, and icy winds.
According to the National Weather Service, greater Cleveland has not seen temperatures like this since Jan. 20, 1994 – on that day temperatures fell to a record low of -20 F below zero.
Armed with the knowledge that the worst is probably behind us, enjoy some of the things that winter has to offer like sledding, skating, or snowball fights. It’s only a matter of time before we start complaining about the heat and humidity. Until then, take extra time driving to class, and watch your step in the parking lots and sidewalks. Drifting snow and loose salt can be just as dangerous as ice and the bitter cold.
Metro Staff Reporter J.C. Robinson contributed to this report.