The United States and Canada are currently experiencing an unprecedented Arctic blast, characterized by extremely cold air masses originating from the Siberian Region of Asia. These masses have crossed over the North Pole, making their way into Canada and then south and east into the United States. This phenomenon has led to widespread life-threatening conditions across numerous regions, affecting over 200 million Americans.
The extent of the blast is remarkable, stretching from coast to coast in the U.S. It has brought with it a variety of severe weather conditions including blizzards, flooding, gusty winds, and hazardous ice. The southern regions of the U.S. are bracing for the worst part of the Arctic air, where temperatures have plummeted, bringing snow and strong winds that pose a significant risk of frostbite within minutes.
Record-breaking conditions have been a hallmark of this Arctic blast. For instance, Mount Washington in New Hampshire recorded a wind chill of minus 78 degrees Celsius (-108 degrees Fahrenheit), which is reportedly the lowest ever recorded in the United States. The air temperature at the peak reached an astounding -44 degrees Celsius (-47 degrees Fahrenheit) accompanied by extremely strong winds.
The impact of this Arctic blast has prompted several states to declare states of emergency, anticipating severe snow and dangerously low temperatures. Cities across the affected regions have taken emergency measures, such as opening warming centers and conducting outreach to ensure that homeless people are sheltered from the brutal cold. This situation is exacerbated by heavy snow cover over much of the Plains, which has insulated the cold wave, allowing the frigid air to move farther south and east than it would under normal conditions.
Concerns have also been raised about the potential strain on the electric grid, particularly in Texas. The state is bracing for high demand for heat as temperatures drop below freezing. However, unlike the incident in February 2021, forecasters do not expect widespread problems with the electric grid, as the duration of the freezing weather is anticipated to be much shorter.
The scientific explanation for this extreme weather event lies in the behavior of the jet stream — wobbling air currents in the middle and upper parts of the atmosphere. These currents have pushed the cold Arctic air down into Canada and the U.S. Additionally, a minor, sudden stratospheric warming event that occurred about two weeks ago in the Arctic contributed to slowing down the polar vortex winds, setting the stage for the current extreme weather conditions.