Cold Outbreak Plagues the Country
Updated: Mar 7, 2021
What was the cause and was it foreseeable?
Within the past month, the Midwest has faced a historic cold outbreak. Southern Texas, in particular, has witnessed extremely low temperatures. According to the Washington Post, “The February 2021 Arctic outbreak was indeed cold. It is one of the lowest five-day average temperatures experienced in Texas over the past 40 years.” For the first time in U.S. history, all 254 counties in Texas were under a winter storm warning.
PHOTO CREDIT JACOB FORD
According to BBC, when temperatures in Dallas would have typically reached a high of 59F (15C) at this time of year, the high was 14F (-10C). This dramatic change ultimately led to President Biden approving an emergency declaration in the state on February 14th. In the official statement on the White House website, Robert J. Fenton writes that “Biden ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from a severe winter storm beginning on February 11.”
These “Arctic” weather patterns have caused numerous car accidents, flight delays, and power outages across the entire state. On Sunday, February 14th, there were nearly 120 reported car accidents, tweeted Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña. A night of sleet and freezing rain caused a single car crash involving 133 vehicles, and resulted 65 injured people and 6 deaths.
Overall, this significant decrease in temperature has cost dozens of people their lives along with billions of dollars in personal property and infrastructure damages. Additionally, “the loss of power, water and basic services imposed untold misery on millions of people already struggling to deal with a pandemic” writes Washington Post writer David Titley.
PHOTO CREDIT SERGIO FLORES
The Texas cold snap may have been unpredicted, but it is not unprecedented according to Titley. He claims that “it was inexcusable to be unprepared.” After going online to the “Midwest Regional Climate Center”, Titley discovered that “the December 1983 cold outbreak was as cold and long-lived as that of this past week.” He concludes that “Periodic bouts of Arctic air in Texas were foreseeable and foreseen; this particular event was forecasted accurately one to two weeks in advance.”
“Cold air outbreaks such as these are normally kept in the Arctic by a series of low-pressure systems”, the National Weather Service said. “However, this one moved through Canada and spilled out into the US” reported BBC. This could be attributed to climate change as suggested by scientists.
Another reason for the recent “cold snap” is the polar vortex. The polar vortex is winter’s ultra-cold air that is "usually kept bottled up 15 to 30 miles high” and “spins like a whirling top at the top of the planet” writes NBC’s Seth Borenstein. He goes on to write that “but occasionally something slams against the top, sending the cold air escaping from its Arctic home and heading south.” This has become increasingly frequent due to undetermined reasons. Scientists theorize that it is a combination of natural uncontrollable weather and human-caused climate change.