The Day After the … Polar Vortex moved

Posted: January 13, 2014 in False or true?
Tags: , , ,


Photo taken from NPR news, Scott Olson/Getty Images

Really, guys, anyone there who did not think about the Day After Tomorrow flick (2004) after the recent events in North America? I’m not a fan of Emmerich myself, but seriously …

In the movie, inspired by the book The Coming Global SuperstormDennis Quaid tries to explain how climate changes caused the first Ice Age. He thinks that global warming is triggering catastrophic climate changes but, of course, noone really pays attention … until the disruption of ocean currents provoke some “super storms” that bury the US in ice and get Emmerich into his comfort zone. The movie brought heavy critics at U.S. government concerning their rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, but many high profile scientist attacked it as “lies and propaganda” (Patrick J. Michaels, University of Virginia), made for “weak-minded people” (Joseph Gutheinz, retired NASA Office of Inspector General),  being “to climate science as Frankenstein is to heart transplant surgery” (William Hyde, Duke University). Needless to say that some of these guys openly claim (or did at the time) that they don’t believe in global warming. And they were not alone: in 2008, Yahoo! Movies listed The Day After Tomorrow as one of Top 10 Scientifically Inaccurate Movies. Other scientists were not so critical: even though they made it clear that it was science fiction (and, in fact, there are major errors in the movie, for the sake of spectacular, one might guess), they also stated that the writers had done their homework before they released the script. 

And this brings us back to 2013/2014, when the polar vortex hits the US.

A polar vortex is basically a large scale cyclone whirling around the geographic pole of a planet. The problem this year seems to be that our Arctic vortex has decided to move south for Christmas and freeze the US. And the big question here is why.


The most plausible explanation would be that the vortex has gone unstable due to the influence of a high pressure system over Alaska and Greenland. The idea is pretty simple: the strongest a vortex is, the more stable it becomes. Think, for example, of riding a bike or rafting in wild waters: the fastest you move, the least likely it is you’ll fall. When the vortex weakens, it sort of falls into a different location. So we can blame it on the aforementioned high pressure system. And, where does it come from? In this case, if you don’t believe in global warming you’ll have to believe in magic, the whimsical designs of pure chance or maybe on princess Elsa from Frozen. For those of us who believe in climate change, Scientific American wraps it in a few sentences:

“More and more Arctic sea ice is melting during summer months. The more ice that melts, the more the Arctic Ocean warms. The ocean radiates much of that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter, which disrupts the polar vortex. Data taken over the past decade indicate that when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the vortex has a tendency to weaken over the subsequent winter.”

And, apparently, the White House is agreeing now. Here’s the 2-minutes explanation of the phenomena, crystal clear:

So no super-storms, no flooded New York, no border-compliant glaciation (XD dudes!), but it looks like there’s some truth on global warming after all, right?


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