The Polar Vortex: Climate alarmism blows hot and cold

By |2014-02-07T21:55:31+00:00February 3rd, 2014|Op-Ed Articles|8 Comments

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson posted a January 28 Investor’s Business Daily Op-Ed piece titled “Beyond Vortex Lies a Lesson for Denialists.”  His thesis was that recent cold waves bringing subzero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation provide an excuse for global warming skeptics (us “denialists”) to claim that “it’s really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!” He emphasizes that we skeptics “forget that it’s winter, and apparently they [we] don’t quite grasp that even when it’s cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another.”

Frankly, while my fellow skeptics may seriously doubt that any evidence of a human-caused, or even nature-caused, climate crisis exists, I don’t know of any who disagree with Robinson about not concluding much of anything about “climate change” based upon conditions occurring over a few days, weeks, months, or even years of unseasonably cold (or warm) weather over part or most of the world. After all, “climate” is a term typically applied to cycles lasting at least 30 years which depend a lot upon when you start measuring.

There is certainly no dispute regarding the fact that climate changes, and does so for many reasons. In fact the past century has witnessed two distinct periods of warming and cooling. The first warming occurred between 1900 and 1945. Since CO2 levels were relatively low then compared with now, and didn’t change much, they couldn’t have been the cause before 1950.

The second warming shift began in 1975 and rose at quite a constant rate until 1998, a strong Pacific Ocean El Niño year…although this later warming is reported only by surface thermometers, not satellites, and is legitimately disputed by some. (There’s some background on this in my June 18 column.)

snowIncidentally, about half of all estimated warming since 1900 occurred before the mid-1940s despite continuously rising CO2 levels since that time. As for continued warming (up until a recent 17-year “pause”), we have been witnessing a pretty constant trend of temperature increases ever since the last “Little Ice Age” (not a true Ice Age) ended in about 1850.

Robinson cited a January 2 article in the journal Nature arguing that human-generated carbon emissions will lead to even greater warming than was previously anticipated. This will allegedly result from the impact of warming on cloud cover causing average global temperatures to possibly rise a full 7° F by the end of the century.

The study’s lead author, Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, told the Guardian newspaper that this: “would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous” and “would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much the tropics.”

Some other January articles posted in Nature might be noted as well. For example, an unsigned editorial in the January 16 issue titled “Cool Heads Needed,” warns that unusual cold weather doesn’t prove or disprove the theory of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming that “climate skeptics” have “celebrated”. It also theorizes that “global warming might in fact be contributing to the string of abnormally cold U.S. winters in recent years,” yet also observes that “the average global temperature… has plateaued since 1998.”

The editorial admits that: “plenty of questions remain … Exactly how sensitive is Earth’s climate system to increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases?” It finally concludes that “if the past is any indication, we may have to live with a fair degree of uncertainty.”

Another Nature journal article of the same date titled “The Case of the Missing Heat,” by Jeff Tollefson, reviews research on why “the warming stalled” in 1998. He reports “the pause has persisted, sparking a minor crisis of confidence in the field.”

Tollefson then claims that: “climate skeptics have seized on the temperature trends as evidence that global warming has ground to a halt. Climate scientists, meanwhile, know that the heat must be building up somewhere in the climate system, but they have struggled to explain where it is going, if not into the atmosphere.”

Then his wrenching dilemma: “Some have begun to wonder whether there is something amiss in their [climate] models.”

Something amiss in their models…is that truly possible? Golly, I thought only radical “skeptics” entertained that rash possibility!

And by the way, there are also some really smart climate scientists who believe that the global climate warming “pause” we have been experiencing since the time most of today’s high school students were born will not only continue, but now introduces a much longer-term cooling cycle.

As I discussed in my January 21 column, Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov who heads Russia’s prestigious Pulkovo Observatory in sunspotsSt. Petersburg predicts that: “after the maximum of solar Cycle-24, from approximately 2014, we can expect the start of the next bicentennial cycle of deep cooling with a Little Ice Age in 2055 plus or minus 11 years” (the 19th to occur in the past 7,500 years).

Abdussamatov and others primarily link their cooling predictions to a 100-year record low number of sunspots. Periods of reduced sunspot activity correlate with increased cloud-forming influences of cosmic rays. More clouds tend to make conditions cooler, while fewer often cause warming. He points out that Earth has experienced such occurrences five times over the last 1,000 years, and that: “A global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions. The common view of Man’s industrial activity is a deciding factor in global warming has emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect.”

But back to that “polar vortex” thing. As Robinson and other members of the Four-Alarm Fire Brigade insist, with the planet obviously in flames, those numbing temperatures over much of the country (the ones we “skeptics/denialists” are so eager to flaunt) must be an anomaly…a rare exception… certainly not something that can be correlated with any natural climate change that would suggest a possible cooling trend. Giving it a special, exotic-sounding name is a great way to distinguish this from a common old run-of-the-mill weather phenomenon.

Actually however, it’s really not such a new name after all. And the warministas are right that it apparently has nothing to do with global warming, with human fossil-burning carbon emissions, or with flatulent cattle and kangaroos either for that matter.

Princeton University physicist Dr. Will Happer provides a good thumbnail sketch of the physics involved in an interview posted on Marc Morano’s Climate Depot website. Emphasizing that polar vortices have been around forever, he explains: “The poles have little sunshine even in summer, but especially in winter, like now in the Arctic. So the air over the poles rapidly gets bitterly cold because of radiation to dark space, with negligible replenishment of heat from sunlight.”

Dr. Happer continues: “The sinking cold air is replaced by warmer air flowing in from the south at high altitudes. Since the Earth is rotating, the air flowing in from the south has to start rotating faster to the west, just like a figure skater rotates faster if she pulls in her arms. This forms the polar vortex. The extremely cold air at the bottom of the vortex can be carried south by meanders of the jet stream at the ends of the vortex.”

Happer concludes that “we will have to live with polar vortices as long as the sun shines and the Earth rotates.”

My meteorologist friend Joe Bastardi notes two fairly recent examples when Arctic polar vortices dropped blasts of very cold air into the U.S. One occurred during January 1977, and the other came along at the time of President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in January 1985…when Chicago’s temperatures then reached a record low of 28°F below zero.

As a matter of fact, a polar vortex back in 1777 can potentially be credited with influencing the course of American history. That was just before the Battle of Princeton when Cornwallis’s men marched south of New York City in an attempt to trap George Washington’s small Continental Army in Trenton. Fortunately for the home team, a vortex swept across New Jersey which enabled Washington to avoid encirclement by evacuating his troops and artillery over frozen roads. Upon reaching Princeton, they successfully attacked the British garrison.

Can we thank climate change, global warming, or even global cooling for that? Well, while it did occur near the end of that last Little Ice Age, probably not. But let’s at least finally give that polar vortex some long overdue recognition.


  1. jameshrust February 3, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    Nice discussion of the polar vortex. We skeptics have tongue in cheek when blaming cold weather on failure of global warming. This is simply dishing back to the alarmists the medicine they have been using by blaming anything that happens on carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels causing catastrophic global warming.
    James H. Rust, Professor

  2. Gene Simmons February 3, 2014 at 11:38 PM

    Stop misrepresenting everything Crackpot Bell.

    Still no pause in warming, and the hot trends are occurring in Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Record highs. And what is the ocean doing. Warming.

    You’re full of shit Larry.

    • alpha2actual February 8, 2014 at 5:30 AM is hosted by a Brit software developer, 30 years experience, and a self proclaimed “Practical Environmentalist” and Conservationist. This site has many of the major climate related datasets and interactive sophisticated tools to plot graphs. Plot the CO2 dataset, linear regression tool,normalized, for the past 33 years against the NSIDC southern hemisphere ice extent, linear regression tool, normalized, and you will find that they are perfectly correlated therefore it follows that CO2 causes Global Cooling

      • Ivan the Terrible February 9, 2014 at 4:09 AM

        No…this one failed in the seventies when we were supposed to be going into an Ice Age. It was exchanged for Global warming when it didn’t surface. The weather is an ever changing thing. The next thing you know they will be going back to the dire seventies predictions until which time it starts warming again then Al Gore will reemerge. Its bad enought that they try to have it both ways with “Climate Change” montra. It’s a wonderful way for the bureaucracy to raise money to justify getting a bigger allowance. Don’t they understand the weather has always changed? Seasons? Ice Ages? Solar Maximums? None of this is new except for the weather now generates revenue and votes when it is used to scare the Hell out of us.

    • David Disher February 8, 2014 at 11:04 AM

      Gene, yes mam, the earth is cooling and so is the ocean which has dropped 200 feet in elevation during the past 10,000 years.
      MIT ’65 and ’66.

    • Ivan the Terrible February 9, 2014 at 3:47 AM

      The yellow orb called the Sun is warming us…Sun heats up, we heat up, Sun cools down we cool down. Let’s go through this again…Sun heats up, we heat up, Sun cools down, we cool down.

      Al gore will come out a little later that the groundhog. About April maybe May his head will pop out of his whole and he will declare once again the Globe is warming. He ought to be called Mr. Freeze though because usually when he comes out in the winter to proclaim Global warming Unusually cold weather will follow, the only hot air is leaving his mouth. He seems to go into hibernation nowadays right round the winter months.

      To be fair, I must note that Russian Global Warming “scientist’ Got stuck in Anarctica during the Northern Hemispheres Winter Solstice along with a contingent from China. What makes me really laugh is that In Anarctica it was in its ‘SUMMER SOLSTICE’! So when we are having a chilly winter up North, the deep south is having an unusually cold Anarctic Summer. To add injury to insult they were going there to study the retreating ‘ICE CAP’! They were solidly stuck in the retreating Ice cap…

      One more time…Sun heats up, we heat up, Sun cools down we cool down. The seasons change…It is usually cool in the winter, mild in the spring, hot in the summer and starts cooling again in fall. But hey I’m generalizing a bit much because of the frequency and history of this trend called Seasons…Subject to change without notice.

      My closing thoughts: The scientist have been telling us that one day the Sun will burn out and or super nova. Well if it just burns out I will be very sad to see it go. It would make me think of warmer days when I could grow a garden, go to the beach with my wife and kids, watch a sunset and yes listen to Al Gore…What would we do without a warm globe? Its heat warms the oceans so we can get rain (I live in drought ridden California) , keeps us in most of the world from freezing our butts off, gives Al something to talk about, give birds a chance to migrate, keeps cute little penguins from turning into ice, keeps ice ages from occuring and give us this thing called summer. Praise God! 😉

    • Ivan the Terrible February 9, 2014 at 4:15 AM

      You seem so much more of an authority on the subject when you cuss and swear…GGRRRR…….

  3. sooky blessington February 8, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    I loved this article. It was great to read that which validated my own
    research of easily obtainable data sets on not just this aspect, but all
    aspects of that which I deem to be ‘Climategate’. When one understands
    the political purpose for which it was conceived by Sir Crispin Tickell
    and Margaret Thatcher and its purpose at that time, one cannot help but
    be impressed by that continuing expression. When it is understood that a
    climate tax is simply a metaphor for templating an international tax,
    that sets policy for sovereign economies, through an unelected agency
    such as the UN, with no mechanism to eject it in the event of
    dissatisfaction, one realises the danger in pursuing such preposterous
    measures and the harm that will arise. For me, the numbers that have
    always resonated are: Sun – 1,273,000 times the size of Earth and 8
    minutes and 20 seconds average light time away. Solar flaring to ten
    times Earth diameter. The correlation between sunspots and cloud
    formation. CO2 representing at best, 0.039% of the atmosphere, depending
    on which model one follows and being exceeded in intensity by methane
    and volume by water vapour. The relationship with cycling gases, its
    implied hang time ( 30 – 90 years ) in the atmosphere varying by up to
    300% dependent upon the model and the complex emissions from the Earth
    itself, not being well defined, leaving the baselines as highly variable
    and the conclusions equally so. The population of Earth set to peak at 8
    Billion and begin falling. Humanity covering just 1.74% of the Earth’s
    surface. Light not penetrating beyond 200 meters in the ocean. For
    scale, less than 5% of all the oceans, that sink to 11km in the Pacific,
    having been adequately explored and fewer than 10% of all species
    discovered. The shifting of the poles in 1997. The ending of The Little
    Ice Age in 1850. The ‘pause’ that occurred 16 years ago. The statement
    in the IPCC report last year that there had been ‘no statistically
    significant movement in global temperatures since that time.’ Similar
    sentoments about the viability of the model, expressed by report lead
    author, Dr Hans Van Storch. The section dealing with Winter stating,’
    Warmer Winters and fewer cold spells.’ No mention of Polar Vortices. The
    tiny and obtuse choice of a timeline commencing in 1951 and the
    selective use of data. The jailing of the former head of the EPA on what
    the judge described as ‘climate fraud on an unprecedented scale.’ Here
    are some pictures that I used to silence claims that warm temperatures
    in Melbourne, Australia are recent or unusual. They do so very

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