The Day after Tomorrow … Today

I was going to do my daily post on agile project management today, but I’m taking the day off–in more ways than one.   It is a Wednesday, and it normally would be a work day, but the plant I work at is closed because of the extreme cold here in the Chicago area.   The temperature will go down to -25 F tonight, with the wind chill factor making it feel like -50 F.   I just spent half an hour in the crawl space in the basement, putting a heater near the pipes coming from the outside so that they don’t freeze and possibly burst during the night.

I was listening to the reports about how the weather will be the coldest it has been since 1985, and I decided to take a day off my normal blog schedule (where I am going through the Agile Practice Guide), and write about a movie I saw 15 years ago called The Day After Tomorrow.

It was a science-fiction movie about the effects of global warming, starring Dennis Quaid as the climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid).   After his warnings were largely ignored by U.N. officials when presenting his environmental concerns, his research proved to be true when an enormous “superstorm” developed, setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world.   Among those disasters were, in addition to the rising of global air temperature levels

a) rising sea levels (caused by the melting of glacial ice in Greenland and Antarctica)

b) the slowing of the Gulf Stream (due to the melting of glacial ice in Greenland mentioned above), which normally keeps the countries East of the Atlantic Ocean several degrees warmer than the countries on the West side of that ocean

c) disruptions in air circulation patterns around the poles causing super-cooled air to be pulled from the stratosphere.

There are other unusual patterns that were mentioned, but the three mentioned above are the ones that stuck in my mind the most.   In the past few years since I’ve moved back to the Chicago area from California, I was worried about the rising sea levels to a certain extent, but was comforted in my mind with the fact that I no longer lived on either coast as I had done for many of the past 25 years.   I was concerned about the slowing of the Gulf Stream, but that was also a more distant concern.   As far as the last item above is concerned, I frankly thought that was tipping out of the realm of “science” and into the realm of “science fiction.”

However, I have heard in the past few years about the phenomenon of the polar vortex, which is a circular pattern of winds in the stratosphere that revolves around the North Pole and essentially “locks in” the arctic cold during the wintertime in the Northern Atmosphere.   North of this polar vortex it is super cold, but south of it, the winter temperatures are cold but not nearly to the same extent.

However, the average temperature in the wintertime in the arctic has gone up twice as much as it is in the temperate climates.   That means that the warm air from that climate zone flows north like a river in the atmosphere, and when it reaches the polar vortex, it crashes up and over it like waves over a wall during a hurricane.   The polar vortex actually gets breached and it splits into two or three lobes, some of which get pushed away from their normal position over the poles.

Today we are seeing the results of this:   a super-cooled body of air that normally would not travel below the arctic circle is going to be passing over the Midwest United States, and the temperatures have been plummeting for the past 24 hours.   It’s now -15 F (-38 with the windchill), and the temperature will continue to go down until it reaches -25 F just before dawn tomorrow.

Now, this is not as dramatic a change in temperature as depicted in the movie (where the drop happened in literally a few minutes), but when you’re actually living through it, it brings home that what was a science-fiction movie actually was based on a lot of science that has proved to be true.

I am sure there will be some politicians who take advantage of the intense cold to cast doubt on the phenomenon of climate change, like the one who held up a snowball a year or so on the Senate floor to demonstrate that there was no such thing as global warming.  I was half expecting him to go to McDonald’s, buy a Happy Meal, hold it up on the Senate floor and say that it proved that there was no such thing as global food insecurity!

But for those of us who are out here living in the consequences of actions taken (or not taken) by the government, this weather we are experiencing is another in a series of warnings nature is giving us, as told in the lyrics of the song Nature’s Way by the band Spirit way back in the 1960s:

It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong

I hope this will make more people heed the call!


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