The mercury fell to 5 degrees at our house in the early hours of Tuesday morning. That was the reading from the Weather Channel, which I monitored through the night. The temperature dropped fast after dark, going from 17 degrees to 11 degrees by 11 p.m. and hitting 5 degrees by 5 a.m.
It was by far the coldest night in a couple of decades, punctuating the bitter cold we’ve had recently along with most of the rest of the country. The Weather Channel reported record lows were set Tuesday morning in at least 45 places, including Atlanta’s 6 degrees (previous record 10), Macon’s 11 (previous, 14), and Birmingham’s 7 versus its old record of 11 degrees.
None of those readings begins to compare with the really, really cold places like Chicago, which saw the mercury plunge to 16 degrees below zero and Detroit where it hit minus 14. In New York, the temperature in Central Park fell to 4 degrees, breaking the old record of 6 degrees set in 1896.
All this frigid air is brought to us by what’s called a polar vortex, the swirling wind pattern above the North Pole that typically affects winter weather down here but not like this, of course. The reason for the invasion of the polar winds is a powerful high pressure system from the Eastern Pacific that reached up to the North Pole and pushed the vortex farther southward than is typical, according to the National Weather Service.
That scenario is made much worse and of longer duration because one of the areas most affected, the upper Midwest, is more than 98 percent snow-covered. More than 76 percent of the entire Midwest is covered by snow, and 100 percent of the upper Great Lakes region is blanketed with the white stuff.
The good news is that Florida’s citrus groves escaped sub-freezing temperatures, the growers association reported, and even the more-susceptible vegetable crops apparently were not damaged. The bad news is that cattle traders in Chicago were concerned the extreme cold “would cause weight loss in feed yards, further diminishing the available supply of beef,” according to agweb.com. Result: Cattle futures hit all-time highs Monday, presaging even higher beef prices, already sky high.
On the good news front, whatever the shortcomings of Cobb EMC, the good folks operating the system kept the power flowing to our heat pump, which is setting a record for continuous operation. It’s been running almost nonstop for days. And no doubt the bill for this month is going to be astronomical.
Meanwhile, amid these subfreezing temperatures, where is Al (Chicken Little) Gore? In 2008 he predicted the entire North Polar cap “will disappear in five years” — which would have been 2013. But instead, New American reported, the ice covers in both the North and South polar regions have expanded.
The polar vortex is deep-sixing global warming.