By Jillian Diamond

A surprisingly warm Maryland winter was interrupted just last week when a polar vortex descended upon the East Coast. The natural weather phenomenon swept through nearby areas, causing temperatures to drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit in the span of a few days.

The vortex hit particularly hard in Chicago, Illinois – where temperatures dropped to -18 degrees, though the wind chill made it feel like -58 degrees to native Chicagoans. In less than a week, certain parts of America became colder than the entirety of Antarctica. 20 people died as a result of the extreme cold, many of whom were homeless people in Chicago who were unable to find shelter from the bitter chill.

Polar vortexes are usually confined only to the North and South Poles, hence the name. However, when air around or in a polar vortex gets warmer, it can cause parts of the vortex to break off and move around – sending chilly Arctic or Antarctic air to be sent to areas that are usually not that cold. Though the term “polar vortex” only emerged fairly recently on social media, the National Weather Service says that the phenomenon is nothing out of the ordinary. Similar spikes of cold weather due to polar vortexes have been documented as far back as 1977.

Though Maryland did not receive the brunt of the vortex’s effects, they were definitely felt throughout College Park. Over the last week, temperatures dipped to as low as 7 degrees, and the cold weather combined with high humidity caused several instances of snow. The University of Maryland campus was forced to close twice due to inclement weather – first on Tuesday, January 29 at 2:00 PM, and then on Friday, February 1 at 1:00 PM. Though many students enjoyed the fact that their classes were canceled, many of them were concerned about the effects that the polar vortex was having.

Carolina Quiroz Moreya, a junior in the physiology and neurobiology specialization and psychology at UMD, said that “[she’s] been here for three years, but this is the most closings [she’s] ever seen.” According to Moreya, the last time the campus was closed due to snow was once during her freshman year, in 2017. The fact that so many campus closings were occurring in such quick succession was, in her own words, “concerning.”

Freshman journalism major Iman Hassen, a commuter, had a far different experience with the closings.

“I drive to campus from Washington, D.C. every day,” she said. “The days campus closed early, the bus to get to my parking space was significantly delayed, and there was a bunch of traffic when I was leaving campus … I know that other regions in the Midwest suffered greater effects from the polar vortex, but it still really worried me. A lot of people I know have already gotten sick, and widespread sickness on a college campus just sucks for everyone.”

The polar vortex has left many worried about the increasing effects of climate change on our world – as the planet warms, unusually hot or cold temperatures will become more common compared to our currently temperate climate. Climate scientists assure that polar vortexes are a normal event, though, and the fact that one occurred so recently is not indicative of drastic change in global temperatures. In any case, temperatures around the Northeast should be returning to normal. According to The Weather Channel, College Park will see temperatures as high as 66 degrees this week, though it is likely that the weather will most likely be in the mid-forties.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay.

Jillian Diamond is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at diamondgirl2000@gmail.com.

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