Claims get ‘Pants on Fire’ rating

In this Jan. 10 photo, the U.S. side of Niagara Falls in New York has begun to thaw after  the recent “polar vortex” that affected millions in the U.S. and Canada. Enlargephoto

Associated Press

In this Jan. 10 photo, the U.S. side of Niagara Falls in New York has begun to thaw after the recent “polar vortex” that affected millions in the U.S. and Canada.

Those images of polar bears stranded atop tiny glaciers, looking very sad about their melting home in the North Pole, are phony, says radio host Rush Limbaugh.

The lefty media created them to drive the discussion on global warming, which is also phony.

You know what else is phony, said Limbaugh? “The “polar vortex” chilling much of the country with record-low temperatures. The media is playing it up as an extreme, counterintuitive consequence of a warming planet as part of its global warming “hoax,” when the polar blast really proves just the opposite.”

“Polar vortex” may sound new to Limbaugh, journalists and anyone who is not a weather expert, but it’s not a term the media cooked up to scare you. It’s been part of the conversation in meteorology circles since at least the 1940s and ’50s.

The polar vortex is the region in the northern hemisphere that contains the planet’s cold or Arctic air. A warmer atmosphere lies outside of the vortex. The boundary between the regions is a jet stream of strong, fast-moving, frigid winds. Sometimes the jet stream is more symmetrical, encircling the polar region in an oval without many bumps. Other times, especially this week, its rotation breaks off into deep troughs, ushering cold air to the south. A polar outbreak occurs in areas that have big drops in temperature, where the polar vortex has dipped pronouncedly south.

Whether last week’s polar outbreak is a result of global warming is a matter of active scientific debate. Rutgers University climate researcher Jennifer Francis argues the loss of Arctic ice leads to more extremes – not just more frigid winters for the East Coast, but also record warm temperatures.

“This sort of jet stream pattern is what we expect to occur more often as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe in response to increasing greenhouse gases,” she said. “We can’t say this particular event is caused by climate change, but it is becoming clearer that this sort of pattern should become more likely in the future.” Arctic sea ice is almost at a record low for this time of year, Francis pointed out.

Scientists look at long-term trends, not annual shifts, to base their conclusions. Alarm over shrinking sea ice is based on how the region is shedding more and more of it by the end of summer – as less ice covers the Arctic Ocean, the ocean absorbs more warmth. Historically, ice covering the Arctic sea is twice as big as the continental United States by winter’s end in March. Around 1980, sea ice by summer’s end in September covered as much area as the contiguous United States Lately, it’s shrunk to an area smaller than the size of the United States west of the Mississippi River.

“The long-term trend in Arctic sea ice is sharply downward, and this trend has the capability to cause significant alterations in jet stream behavior that can cause an increase in both warm and cold extreme events in the winter,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground.

Limbaugh claimed the media made up the “polar vortex” to bolster global warming. What the cold snap does prove, he says, is Arctic sea ice is not melting – that global warming is a hoax. Climate scientists told us his rant is wildly misinformed. The polar vortex has been a part of science for decades, and it certainly does not prove that sea ice is not melting.

Politifact.com rated this “Pants on Fire!”

Chip Tuthill, Mancos

A large chunk of ice sits in a whirlpool last week at the base of the United States side of Niagara Falls in New York. Enlargephoto

A large chunk of ice sits in a whirlpool last week at the base of the United States side of Niagara Falls in New York.