Into the vortex

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I cannot recall many winters as cold as this one. This winter started with a lot of snowstorms in December and then in January we got more snow and the temperatures here in northern Ontario dropped to -30º and felt like -40º taking wind chill into account. Many Elders tell me that they do not remember this kind of extreme cold for so many consecutive days and such huge snowfalls since the 1960s and 1970s.

As someone born and raised in Attawapiskat, I am familiar with cold winters but this one tops them all. I notice the extreme cold when I venture outside to start up my truck. The only reason it starts is because I have an engine block heater and a battery warmer plugged in. Otherwise there is a good chance that at -30º the engine would not fire up. I notice that it is also more difficult to start up my snowblower and we have been getting so much snow this season that even though I am dressed in very warm clothing I start feeling cold after a short time outside.

As cold as it is I have had some fun with these extreme temperatures by boiling water in a kettle pouring it into a cup and then hurrying outside to throw the hot liquid into the air. The results are amazing to photograph or video as the water turns into snow while airborne. Many people are demonstrating this phenomenon on YouTube.

With this extreme weather comes many risks and people should realize they have to take care when venturing out into -30º weather. Extreme cold can affect your immune system as the freezing temperatures result in less blood going to the body’s extremities so that heat can be preserved at the core and in the brain. The cold weather also affects our lungs. Freezing weather can result in a heart attack and this is more so for older people or those with heart problems. The risk becomes greater for older people who are outside in the cold clearing snow. This is because your heart has to work harder to keep you warm and that raises your heart rate and blood pressure.

Your toes, fingers, ears and nose do not have any muscles to produce heat and because the natural response for a body is to preserve heat by cutting back blood flowing to your extremities you can easily get frostbite. Hypothermia can occur when you are exposed to very cold temperatures for a long period of time and that can kill you. Even your eyes can be affected by these temperatures and experts advise wearing goggles or some protection if you are doing outdoor sport, like skiing or snowmobiling. It is also not a good idea to be out exercising, running or exerting yourself as -30º and -40º temperatures can damage your lungs. It is best to wear a scarf and breath through your nose in this weather and to refrain from high exertion.

You might hear people reacting to this extreme cold weather by remarking that global warming must be a myth because it is so cold. The opposite is true in that global warming is very real and responsible for this very cold weather in northern Canada, mid-Canada and the northern United States this year. It is all due to a split polar vortex that is pushing freezing Arctic air into lower parts of the continent. Climate change deniers come out of the woodwork to try to question global warming by pointing to colder weather this winter in a world where scientists are warning us about the planet heating up.

As scientists point out warm temperatures in the Arctic, as a result of global warming and climate change, is causing the jet stream to push further south and this is bringing extreme cold to southern areas that don’t usually experience it. This cold weather is also staying in place longer because of the shift of the jet stream. Are things going to get better? It does not look like it as some scientists are forecasting a 50% increase in more severe weather in the form of winter freezing temperatures, summer droughts and violent storms.

The only things that can possibly help us is for all countries of the world to unite in a meaningful way to lower the production of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, because of lobbying by the oil and other industries that cause a lot of these greenhouse gases, world governments might not find the will and strength to do the right thing. That might just mean the extinction of the human race and just who on earth would profit from that?

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