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The colder side of global warming

| Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fellow Tree Huggers,
Let me begin by welcoming you all back to campus! Things got pretty crazy for the students who stayed in the Midwest this winter, and I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable break. For those of you who live either under a rock or spend all of your time on the balmy beaches of Malibu and away from the TV, I’ll fill you in. Earlier this month, many cities in America’s Midwest experienced a combination of strong snowstorms and blisteringly cold temperatures. Over 50 weather centers recorded historically low temperatures on Jan. 6 and 7. Temperatures in our nation’s second city dipped well below zero, and Midwesterners rushed to the grocery stores to stock up on food like they were expecting the Second Coming. This weather system managed to cancel the first day of class at many area universities and left some climate-change deniers even more firmly convinced that global warming is a myth.
How could our planet be warming if Chicago is experiencing negative 40-degree wind chills? Now there is a very long and boring scientific explanation for this paradox, and to be honest I don’t completely understand it all. However, the gist of the problem is that as our planet warms, the jet stream slows down. The jet stream typically holds frigid artic air at the poles, but as it slows, the stream is less able to trap this air. This means that systems of super-cold air can occasionally slip by and cause fun things like water pipes that spontaneously explode and hundreds of Midwestern kids throwing pots of boiling water in to the sub-zero air (check it out on Vine or Facebook).
The point is super-cold fronts will actually become more frequent as the world warms. This counterintuitive reality has broad reaching implications. The most recent “snowpocolypse” shut down virtually every business and school in the Midwest for two days, and complaining Midwesterners almost crashed Facebook and Twitter. It also revealed that the current storm-fighting infrastructure will not be adequate if what used to be a “100-year storm” is now a “10-year storm.” If current warming trends continue, the Midwest will have to invest in more snow plows, more insulation for homes and above all else, lots and lots of salt. It also requires that we reevaluate the image of which communities are at risk for global warming-fueled disasters. Global warming will not just affect low-lying coastal communities, it will affect Chicago, New Jersey and everywhere in between.
The moral of this storm, and almost any weird weather for that matter, is that global warming is a real and growing problem that impacts all weather patterns. In fact, current forecasts predict that a polar vortex will be visiting our area this week, so batten down the hatches! Stick with me this semester as I provide green advice and keep you up to date with trends in the sustainability world, and you can learn how to do your part to preserve this beautiful planet. Here’s to a semester free of many more super-cold snaps, and to a more informed and green campus community.

Email your predicaments to The GreenMan at [email protected] and let him answer you with a sustainable twist. The GreenMan will be here every other week to provide you with insights you never knew you were missing out on until now.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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