Why Chicago Set Records with Another Polar Vortex

For those of us here in Illinois, the end of January this year was mind-blowingly frigid. Wind chills dipped as low as minus 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the upper Midwest, and in Chicago it was not much warmer than that. In fact, temperatures that week were substantially colder in the states along the Great Lakes than in the world’s northernmost permanent settlements on the island of Spitsbergen in Norway, where daylight will be returning this month for the first time since October. Whenever temperatures get lower than normal here in the US, there are many people (our president included) who question the existence of climate change. Continue reading “Why Chicago Set Records with Another Polar Vortex”

Did Climate Change Fuel Hurricanes Florence and Michael?

At 7:15 AM ET on Friday, September 14, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 storm. Although, by this point, it had weakened from its peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane, Florence still inundated communities in the region with torrential rains and a sizeable storm surge before dissipating over the east coast within a few days. Despite its monopoly over the airwaves in September, however, Florence was only one of four storms in the Atlantic at the time of landfall (the other three being tropical storms Helene, Isaac, and Joyce). Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Olivia (which was a Category 4 storm at peak intensity) had just dumped copious quantities of rain over Hawaii, and Typhoon Mangkhut in the west Pacific was still threatening populations in southeast Asia. This month, Hurricane Michael made landfall over the Florida panhandle with wind speeds only 2 mph shy of a Category 5 rating, making it the most powerful hurricane to hit the US since Andrew in 1992. How could so many terrible storms develop in such a short time span? To figure that out, we first need to learn about what hurricanes are and how they form. Here’s an overview: Continue reading “Did Climate Change Fuel Hurricanes Florence and Michael?”

Finding Balance and Harmony in a Diverse Ecosystem

Front and center in the news today is the fact that climate change and various human activities are posing a hazard to the health of major ecosystems across our planet, threatening the survival of life on our planet as we know it.  But what makes a healthy ecosystem, and what does it mean for life when ecosystems undergo major changes, such as deforestation in rainforests caused by industry or a sudden decline of coral reefs due to the rise in ocean temperatures?  How far does the damage reach?  To understand these catastrophic events, we must take a step back and first consider ecosystems in more theoretical, less extreme terms. Continue reading “Finding Balance and Harmony in a Diverse Ecosystem”

Why Do We Get Cold Weather When the Climate Should be Warming?

While it’s widely understood that our planet’s climate is warming, there is a lot of confusion about how this influences our weather from year to year. If you kept up with the news at all between June and November of 2017 and 2018 (the time frame that defines the Atlantic hurricane season), you may remember seeing one headline after another with updates on the latest major storm to wreak havoc on the coastal communities of the southeast and Puerto Rico. Perhaps you even saw some heated discussions about whether or not these storms had proven the existence of climate change (click here for the latest evidence). With the cold snaps in the winter of 2018 and the polar vortex of 2019, though, many have publicly questioned why cold weather doesn’t disprove climate change. Despite the confusion in the media, the scientific consensus is clear – the global climate is warming, and the cold weather is part of it. Continue reading “Why Do We Get Cold Weather When the Climate Should be Warming?”

Will Global Warming Stop the Snow?

I bet you’ve heard it before, maybe in the news, from your uncle, or maybe from a skeptical friend. How can climate change be happening if we are getting so much snow? The reasoning seems sensible – as temperatures go up, the amount of snow should go down, kind of like a seesaw. After all, we don’t have snow in summer because it is too warm – precipitation falls as rain. But we are experiencing climate change, temperatures are going up, and in the Great Lakes we are getting more snow. How can that be possible? Continue reading “Will Global Warming Stop the Snow?”