New Castle News

January 8, 2014

Our Opinion: Region receives a reminder of how cold things can get

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Cold enough for you?

We’re pretty sure the answer is yes. A mercifully brief burst of bitterly cold temperatures has hit the eastern United States, sending temperatures here in Lawrence County below zero. When it’s this cold, just drawing in a breath while outdoors can be a painful experience.

But it won’t last. By the weekend, we may be looking at daily highs in the 40s and low 50s.

If you were walking down a street yesterday, however, that forecast was literally cold comfort. Temperatures like those endured for the past couple of days are not only unpleasant, but downright dangerous. For anyone outside, frostbite is a real concern.

And then there are the worries about frozen or burst pipes, overburdened heating systems, cars that won’t start, etc. When people are not used to such temperatures, various problems inevitably arise.

In case you are wondering, we have encountered what the experts call a “polar vortex.” In simpler times, it would have been described as a cold snap, but there always seems to be a need for new terminology.

Basically, upper air patterns in the arctic shifted and forced a mass of frigid air south. Sometimes this can produce bitterly cold temperatures for an extended period of time. But in this instance, it’s only for a few days.

With all the talk in recent years about global warming, you might think these sub-zero temperatures disprove its existence. But it does nothing of the sort.

An extremely cold day in January does not debunk global warming any more than a day in the 60s would document it. By its very nature, weather is highly variable. A short-term aberration means absolutely nothing in terms of proving or disproving global warming.

As meteorologists will note, there is a difference between weather and climate. Weather is what happens now; climate occurs over years, decades or centuries.

This week’s cold blast is noteworthy in part because it has been years since something similar has occurred here. In fact, the last couple of winters in western Pennsylvania have been remarkably mild. When you get used to such winters, below zero provides a dramatic shock to the system.

Still, it won’t last. And if we are fortunate, the rest of winter will be less dramatic. On the other hand, there’s a lot of time left before spring finally arrives.

Soon, this cold snap will become little more than a memory and a topic of conversation — at least until the fuel bill arrives.