by Santana Venkataraman

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2023 officially holds the title of being the planet’s warmest year on record — and 2024 is projected to be even warmer. This relentless increase in global temperature has triggered the melting of glaciers, leading to a rise in sea levels. Greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide and methane, trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere are a primary cause of these catastrophic effects. The vast majority of these emissions stem from the burning of fossil fuels, which include coal, natural gas and oil. 

The growing chorus of voices demanding rapid action on climate change is louder than ever before and this issue can no longer be pushed aside. Climate change continues to affect the daily lifestyle for millions of Americans with unforeseen storms and wildfires. In Florida and California, home insurance companies have backed out of providing ordinary coverage and are having property owners pay extra charges on their homes. 

In June 2023 smoke pollution from Canadian wildfires completely blanketed the Midwest and Northeast areas of the U.S., leading to poor air quality and increased asthma cases. In the past month, Northeast Ohio was caught in bitterly cold weather. NOAA claims that many are experiencing the first big blast of Arctic air of 2024 as temperatures plummet into dangerous levels, even as the planet warms.

Millions of people have been affected by the dangerously cold temperatures and heavy lake-effect snow across the Great Lakes region. This series of cold events occurred because of a polar jet stream — which is a fast flowing current of air. “The jet stream races from west to east at speeds up to 275 miles per hour, undulating north and south as it goes. This powerful river of wind transports moisture and moves masses of cold and warm air and storm systems along its path,” according to InsideClimate News. Another river of air even higher than the jet stream is called a stratospheric polar vortex. This massive stream of air moves around the North Pole and the middle of the stratosphere. When it becomes disrupted or stretched, it will push southward in some areas, causing these cold snaps. In a PBS News article, professor of climate science at UMass Lowell Mathew Barlow explained, “This vortex has stretched so far over the United States in the lower stratosphere that it had nearly split into two. There are multiple causes that lead to this stretching, but it is highly related to high latitude weather in the prior two weeks.” Barlow continued, warning that the enhanced latitude warming in the Arctic eventually will continue to stretch the polar vortex even farther down as the years go by. So, can we fix this?

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot to undo the complex human damage, which is the main driver of climate change. Local governments and cities around the world have been trying to focus on the local effects of climate change. “They are working to build flood defenses, plan for heat waves, install better draining pavements to deal with floods and improve water storage and use,” says NASA Global Climate Change. For Northeast Ohio specifically, it’s best to stay prepared for more unexpected weather. Promoting education on how climate change is affecting severe changes in the weather is essential for public safety and environmental literacy allowing citizens to take precautions accordingly. It may seem like an impossible task, but taking what small steps you can will make a huge difference long term and help contribute to saving our planet.