Storm Elliot: Biggest Storm Ever?


Perhaps the polar storm gripping the United States and North America in particular is among the most violent ever. According to meteorologists, who have named the Arctic storm Elliot, the current situation is a “potential danger to life”.


The United States and Canada have been brought to their knees by the Arctic blizzard, also known as the blizzard of the century or ” Once lifetime blizzard “. In the State of New York the snow has buried the entire city of Buffalo and there are other areas where the temperature has dropped to -50°C.  Soon the frost will also spread to countries where the climate has always been milder such as Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas, but let us try to delve into what is always a “unique” event of its kind, but could perhaps represent a warning for the future. Let’s start by defining this storm as a polar storm , but why is it so abnormal?

The situation that is taking place in the USA is an anomaly in the phenomenon of the polar vortex , which in this case has descended to latitudes it does not normally reach.

In fact, the polar vortex is a mass of low-pressure air that forms around the North Pole, but which can also extend to the surrounding areas.


Normally, the vortex is held at the pole by a jet stream  which arises due to the temperature difference between the pole and areas at lower latitudes. In winter, the polar vortex descends towards Canada and the USA or towards Europe or Asia. The effect of this descent is the occurrence of heavy snowfalls for several days and waves of frost  Surely all these effects cause a phenomenon that is out of the ordinary and so why is all this happening?  Is this a phenomenon that has to do with climate change? The answer is not so obvious because it oscillates between yes (very high percentage) and maybe.


Elena Shao / The New York Times | Graphic scheme that represents the polar vortex in these hours

When we talk about climate change we very often associate it with rising temperatures, but climate change is 360° and also embraces the winter climate. Freezing cold spells do not fight global warming , but are instead the consequence of it. Again, the cause of the freezing cold  is climate change.


At the beginning it may seem like a paradox, but according to the technicians of Science  magazine the fact that we are in a phase where the planet is subject to a constant rise in temperatures does not mean that cold phenomena in suitable seasonal periods, as winter, no longer occur, indeed. Continued weathering weakens Arctic gyres and warming air causes anomaly winds that previously brought  cold snaps  to higher latitudes now cause these storms  to lower latitudes as well. President Biden also underlined the seriousness of the event:

It’s not a snowy day like it was when you were a kid. This is serious business.

The greater amount of thermal energy in the atmosphere diverts the flow of currents, taking the jet out of its trajectory even if this theory does not agree with all scientists. This particular trajectory deviation in the case of the USA may not be affected by global warming, but the entire scientific community agrees that climate alteration makes this condition more likely. The polar vortex weakens due to heating of the air, causing an anomaly in the winds and therefore the entry of polar air even at lower latitudes The big problem with this violent event is precisely in the Arctic which is heating up four times faster than the Earth.

Every ten years 2.7°C more, this will cause ever more extreme situations.


The frost wave also freezes Niagara Falls – the incredible winter spectacle

The bad weather and frost that hit the United States in the second half of December led to another historic event: the freezing of part of Niagara Falls, which happened only five times in history.

What did Storm Elliot do to North America?

Unfortunately it resulted in casualties throughout the Great Lakes area along the Mexican border. There have been fatalities in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and New York. Among the hardest-hit cities is Buffalo, in Erie County in upstate New York, where temperatures were the worst on record since 1977 . The heavy snowfalls have created cumulus clouds that are (still today) preventing people from leaving their homes and have cut off the power lines. In some areas, the most critical, it was decided to issue the alert with the obligation to remain indoors, as being outdoors could lead to freezing within about ten minutes . The US meteorological service has also recommended that those leaving the house cover themselves as much as possible and carry winter safety kits. Especially in Buffalo, strong winds and snow have blocked rescue operations by firefighters, and the polar storm is disrupting airlines and causing various disruptions in transportation.

It is precisely in Buffalo that there have been the most victims, more than 50 people have lost their lives due to the storm. During the small storm the cars soon got stuck and went off the road. Further in a short time they were buried by snow, with temperatures capable of causing frostbite symptoms after ten minutes outdoors. The occupants called for help, but firefighters, ambulances and snow blowers were in turn surrounded by snow.

Some were found in cars, some outside, buried in the snow – says Mark Poloncarz, county manager of Erie, south of the Great Lakes – some were stuck in the car for two days. As more shoveling continues, the toll will rise as if you’ve entered a war zone

On Boxing Day, the American press writes of 25 people who died in Buffalo due to the frost wave and there are 30 victims in the whole state of New York , while the general bulletin extended to all the affected states mentions a number of more than 70 deaths. Furthermore, in order to deliver a generic picture, it is certain that around 12,000 people, at the moment, do not have an electrical system connected to the grid, and with these temperatures at the limits it is a situation that goes beyond the emergency. Fortunately Storm Elliot is now in its waning phase, the most extreme frost is abating, and temperatures are forecast to continue to rise rather rapidly. This clearly, if it happens in too fast situations, could lead to new risks : in fact, temperatures seem destined to rise very quickly, even going above the seasonal average and to values ​​widely above zero. As a result, it is possible that snowdrifts melt rapidly , and the risk of causing sudden and localized flooding and flooding cannot be ruled out.



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