Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World.
We've got a packed program for you today. From the latest on the conflict in South Sudan, to an update from Iraq, and a look ahead at what China will be up to in the year ahead. Not to mention remembering a Mozambican athlete who went on to become one of the greatest soccer players ever. But first we've gotta start with what everyone's talking about at the frozen water cooler. I'm talking the frigid weather, the polar vortex that's slowly enveloping much of America today.
Already feeling the effects in Wisconsin is Eric Holthaus. He reports on the weather for Quartz.
Eric Holthaus: I wanted to test a little thing that I saw on YouTube this morning, so I boiled up a pot of water, walked outside for about 20 seconds, which is about all that I can handle, and tossed it into the air and it instantly turned into snow. So it's cold.
Werman: That works?
Holthaus: Yeah, yeah. I wouldn't have believed that it would've worked until I actually saw it with my own eyes.
Werman: It's pretty cold there, I guess we can say. Now this polar vortex, as it's called, is pretty far reaching from what I've seen. Going down as far south as Alabama?
Holthaus: Actually, south Florida in the Everglades has issued a freeze watch. So if you're an alligator in the swamp, you many wanna bundle up.
Werman: [Laughs] So give us the science here. I mean, where is this arctic blast coming from, and why is it happening now?
Holthaus: What's going on, really, is that sharp contrast between warm and cold, where on the east coast right now it's in the 50s and 60s, and behind that cold front, it's as cold as minus 40. There's a really strong low pressure center that's literally wrapping cold air down all the way from Greenland into, basically, as far south as Florida.
Werman: Is there any connection between these really cold temperatures, what they're calling a "polar blast," and global warming?
Holthaus: The latest science is still not totally bulletproof, but there's a theory that's been gaining traction in the last year or two, that the melting ice in the Arctic is actually shifting the jet stream farther north, making it a little bit weaker, and therefore making it a little bit wavier. Making it more likely for one of these waves to become super elongated, like it is today, pulling cold air as far south as we're seeing.
Werman: What do you make of that Arctic ice melt theory?
Holthaus: I think it makes a lot of sense. You know, if the mechanism behind the jet stream is weakening, the difference in temperature between the poles and the tropics... The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. So when you see that temperature difference decreasing a little bit, if you believe meteorological science, the jet stream should weaken and all these effects should happen, which are the exact effects that we're seeing.
Werman: So aside from making snow with a tea kettle, how are you coping with the cold, Eric?
Holthaus: Well, it's funny. We got about five chickens about a month ago, and we were really worried that they were gonna not do well outside. Incredibly, we have read that, you know, they could be okay in temperatures as cold as 20 below. And we didn't want to risk it, so we have them in our basement right now. But... so it's been kind of hard to sleep last night, with all the chicken noises, but other than that I think we're doing okay.
Werman: And what about the nuts who went out in seriously sub-zero weather to watch the Green Bay Packers yesterday.
Holthaus: Oh man.
Werman: Are they really the kind of people we want as cold weather role models?
Holthaus: [Laughs] Well, as long as they're enjoying themselves, I mean, I'm not that crazy, but go right ahead.
Werman: Eric Holthaus there in Wisconsin, where he reports on all things weather for Quartz.