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Polar Vortex: The New Winter Norm

By: Dalton Carty
       Staff Writer, Lansing

With record lows hitting parts of the U.S., Cooley students discuss their winter experience.


The New Year always involves fresh facets. Whether novel commitments, pursuits, clothes, or issues, most individuals enter a new year filled with excitement, anticipation, and some anxiety. January 2014 was no different. As most people were beginning to recover from the debilitating effects of too much alcohol on the eve of January 1st, weathermen in the Northeast United States warned of the country’s first significant snowstorm of 2014. They saidit would bring prolific snow, immensely cold temperatures, and cause havoc for many cities in the form of traffic and travel delays. Yet, believing that snowstorms were nothing new, most inhabitants of the area did not appear troubled by the prospect of a snowstorm and failed to heed the weathermen’s advice for alertness of the storm and its potential consequences.

However, on the night of January 2nd, the impending storm hit many regional cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Newark leaving visibility restricted, snow clogged roads, and total whiteout conditions. When dawn emerged on January 3rd, a word had escaped its scientific origins and made its way into mainstream conversation.

The term polar vortex has been around since the mid 1800’s and is a semi-permanent band of spinning cold air normally located above each of the planet’s two geographic poles. In January, one branch of this cold circulating air pushed southward from the North Pole and, aided by weather from the northeast Pacific Ocean and Canada’s Northern Territories, brought freezing temperatures to the United States.        

The effects of the polar vortex have been felt far beyond the Northeast with cold temperatures reported in the Midwest and South. In late January and early February 2014, Atlanta, Georgia was twice inundated with several inches of snow. Snow is a rarity for the tiny southern city. It was so unprepared that, during the first snowstorm, many residents abandoned their cars along the roadside opting to walk because driving was impossible as streets and highways were not salted and remained wet, slick, and icy. February 2014 also saw the same occurrence throughout the South in North Carolina, Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and even Florida where some townspeople in the state’s panhandle were dumbfounded by the appearance of snow.

Thomas Cooley students have also been affected by the polar vortex. Although classes for the 2014 winter term were set to begin on January 6, classes at all Michigan campuses were suspended for two days as snow accumulated in state. Students had to contend with delayed and cancelled flights and some were unable return to Cooley’s Michigan campuses until the second week of classes. A few provided insights about their experience with the polar vortex.

Asked how this winter differs from prior ones, Chancellor Murdock, a second term student from Coldwater, MI, said he recalled only one winter like this, but that was twenty years ago and even that was not as cold.

Andrea Woods, also a second term student from North Carolina, said she had only one experience with severe winters during her childhood, but found it delightful because schools closed and she got to play in snow. She added this did not happen frequently in North Carolina. She felt Michigan winters differ from those in North Carolina because nothing stops in Michigan when there is a lot of snow. “You have to put on your backpack and keep trucking.”

Nabil Freij, a fifth term student who has experienced Michigan winters before, admitted they are quite different from winters in his native Cypress, California where a cold day is in the low 50’s. He said last winter resembled this winter, but it was not as cold. Yet, “Coming from where I grew up, the past two winters have been an experience.”

Still, there are those who claim this winter is no different than those in the past. An anonymous second term student from Lansing, MI said he experienced winters like the current one during his childhood, but stated his adolescent winters had a lot more snow. Another anonymous second term student from Chicago, IL said winters there are exactly like this one except Chicago winters have more sub-zero days, but just as much snow.

Yingzhe Yang, a second term student originally from China who has resided in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada for the last six years, said winters there are worse with six months of snow, temperatures between -20 and -40 degrees Celsius, and no school closures because of the weather. He added Edmonton winters start in late October or early November. Shortly thereafter, 8 to 12 inches of snow falls and does not melt until April and the temperature drops by 10 degrees initially and continues to decrease as winter progresses.

Asked what activities are engaged during extremely cold winters, Murdock said he refrains from going outside unless it is absolutely necessary. On his stay-at-home days, he catches up on classwork and studying. The anonymous student from Chicago also echoed this sentiment. She said she sits inside and studies during frigid weather. Yang agreed with their assessment of cold weather activity. He said, “Nothing can be done…I would do nothing, but sit in the house or library.” Although in the house, the anonymous student from Lansing said he plays with his kids. That makes being inside more enjoyable.

Others apparently find pleasure on cold days from in house amenities or personal disposition. Freij said he is fortunate his building has activities to keep him busy. “I try to stay active. Luckily, my apartment complex has a gym, swimming pool, and indoor basketball court. Woods proclaimed, “I made it my business to enjoy the snow [because] it is a gift. It nourishes the ground, causes buds to grow that give seeds to the soil, and provides the most beautiful Michigan spring seasons. The snow is a necessity.”

Asked to give opinions about when spring will arrive and plans for it, Murdock said, “Judging by this weather, I don’t expect consistent warm temperatures until late March or early April. [I] can’t say I’m looking forward to it though since I am a winter person.”

The anonymous student from Chicago said spring should be here by March although she was unsure of what she wanted to do when it finally arrived. However, the anonymous student from Lansing is looking forward to spring because he wants to go camping and enjoy outdoor activities. He felt it would probably emerge in March.

Yang also said he is really ready to see spring/summer as soon as possible although he does not have any specific plans for either yet. Woods said the same thing. “It will be warmer next week [and] I am looking forward to it.”

Freij is also excited about outdoor activities in the spring, but thinks it won’t arrive until May. “Going from last winter, I anticipate warmer weather in May. I remember last year on my last day of [winter term] finals, it was still in the 20’s. I am definitely looking forward to warm weather [because] I will make a trip to one of the beautiful lakes here in Michigan.”  

Thus, Cooley students have diverse opinions about the polar vortex and when it will end. Yet, the consensus apparently is enough winter. Bring on spring!