The record-breaking frigid temperatures across North America have finally appeared to break with temperatures rising above the freezing mark in St. Catharines on Monday and a projected forecast of eight degrees Celsius by as early as January 11. This break comes as a relief after weeks of freezing temperatures that dipped below -15 degrees Celsius on more than one occasion.
While the temperatures are on the rise, chances are they will not stick around. Abnormally warm air had been pushed up into the western side of North America, effectively pushing the frigid cold air mass usually trapped within its atmospheric jail down south. To put it into perspective, temperatures within Toronto dipped below that of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
This mass of harsh cold air is called a “Polar Vortex”, and has become an increasingly frequent weather phenomenon over the past decade.
What was concerning about this mass of air was the duration it stuck around, with the first burst of cold landing within the region back on December 21.
The increase in the creation of Polar Vortexes, some believe, are caused by climate change, with the shrinking of the polar ice caps steering the Jet Stream farther south. The Jet Stream, a narrow band of winds, is responsible for pushing different types of weather systems all across the planet. Because of the shift, the Jet Stream brings these frigid masses of air farther south where, in this case, it settles for an indeterminable amount of time.
Despite scientific evidence suggesting that this shift in cold temperature is related to climate change, there are some who take the colder than average temperatures to suggest that climate change does not exist. This includes the president of the United States, Donald Trump, who tweeted the following.
“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 28. “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”
The tweet garnered a lot of attention from supporters and the opposition alike.
While it is unsure if another Polar Vortex should occur again through the winter season, if we’re likely to see temperatures drop to such extreme lows, or if a Polar Vortex should stick around as long as the previous one did, it is important to prepare in case of emergencies.
Severe cold can lead to a number of different health risks including wind burn, frostbite, hypothermia, and in extreme cases even death. This is especially true for vulnerable groups like the homeless, elderly, outdoor workers or infants under a year old who are more at risk of the damaging effects.
To reduce your risk, Health Canada suggest that you take proactive measures like wearing proper outdoor gear with synthetic or wool fabrics for better insulation, dress is layers with some kind of resistant outer layer to protect against harsh winds, and making sure to wear a hat, scarf, gloves, socks, and proper boots. Also, changing clothing as soon as possible if you should become wet at any point is recommended.
You should also make sure to check your weather conditions before leaving the house to better equip yourself for the weather, especially when temperatures can drop as quickly as they have this season so far. If you should find yourself in colder temperatures than expected, continuous movement can help keep blood flowing and body temperature up.
Health Canada suggests it is especially important to check to wind chill index.
“The wind can make cold temperatures feel even colder. The wind chill index measures what the temperature feels like on exposed skin based on the speed of the wind. A wind chill can cause your body to lose heat faster and your skin to freeze very quickly. Wind chills below -70 have been recorded in some northern Canadian communities.”
Alcohol should also be avoided in extreme cold temperatures due to the increase in blood flow to the body’s extremities, making the consumer feel warmer when it actuality they could be losing a significant amount of body heat. Because of this, alcohol increases your chances of hypothermia.
For more information about reducing your risk of hypothermia and other health risks caused by colder temperatures, please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/environment/extreme-cold.html