Cold wave

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A cold wave (known in some regions as a cold snap or cold spell) is a weather phenomenon that is distinguished by a cooling of the air. Specifically, as used by the U.S. National Weather Service, a cold wave is a rapid fall in temperature within a 24-hour period requiring substantially increased protection to agriculture, industry, commerce, and social activities. The precise criterion for a cold wave is determined by the rate at which the temperature falls, and the minimum to which it falls. This minimum temperature is dependent on the geographical region and time of year. [1]

Contents

In the United States, a cold spell is defined as the national average high temperature dropping below 20 °F (−7 °C). [2] A cold wave of sufficient magnitude and duration may be classified as a cold air outbreak (CAO). [3]

Effects

A cold wave can cause death and injury to livestock and wildlife. Exposure to cold mandates greater caloric intake for all animals, including humans, and if a cold wave is accompanied by heavy and persistent snow, grazing animals may be unable to reach needed food and die of hypothermia or starvation. They often necessitate the purchase of foodstuffs to feed livestock at considerable cost to farmers.

Cold spells are associated with increased mortality rates in populations around the world. [4] Both cold waves and heat waves cause deaths, though different groups of people may be susceptible to different weather events. [5] In developed countries, more deaths occur during a heat wave than in a cold snap, though the mortality rate is higher in undeveloped regions of the world. Globally, more people die during hot weather than cold weather. Extreme winter cold often causes poorly insulated water pipelines and mains to freeze. Even some poorly protected indoor plumbing ruptures as water expands within them, causing much damage to property and costly insurance claims. Demand for electrical power and fuels rises dramatically during such times, even though the generation of electrical power may fail due to the freezing of water necessary for the generation of hydroelectricity. Some metals may become brittle at low temperatures. Motor vehicles may fail when antifreeze fails or motor oil gels, producing a failure of the transportation system. To be sure, such is more likely in places like Siberia and much of Canada that customarily get very cold weather.

Fires become even more of a hazard during extreme cold. Water mains may break and water supplies may become unreliable, making firefighting more difficult. The air during a cold wave is typically denser and thus contains more oxygen, so when air that a fire draws in becomes unusually cold it is likely to cause a more intense fire[ citation needed ]. However, snow may stop spreading of fires, especially wildfires.

Winter cold waves that are not considered cold in some areas, but cause temperatures significantly below average for an area, are also destructive. Areas with subtropical climates may recognize unusual cold, perhaps barely freezing, temperatures, as a cold wave. In such places, plant and animal life is less tolerant of such cold as may appear rarely. The same winter temperatures that one associates with the norm for Colorado, Ohio, or Bavaria are catastrophic to winter crops in places like Florida, California, or parts of South America that grow fruit and vegetables in winter.

Cold waves that bring unexpected freezes and frosts during the growing season in mid-latitude zones can kill plants during the early and most vulnerable stages of growth, resulting in crop failure as plants are killed before they can be harvested economically. Such cold waves have caused famines. At times as deadly to plants as drought, cold waves can leave a land in danger of later brush and forest fires that consume dead biomass. One extreme was the so-called Year Without a Summer of 1816, one of several years during the 1810s in which numerous crops failed during freakish summer cold snaps after volcanic eruptions that reduced incoming sunlight.

Countermeasures

In some places, such as Siberia, extreme cold requires that fuel-powered machinery to be used even part-time must be run continuously. Internal plumbing can be wrapped, and persons can often run water continuously through pipes. Energy conservation, difficult as it is in a cold wave, may require such measures as collecting people (especially the poor and elderly) in communal shelters. Even the homeless may be arrested and taken to shelters, only to be released when the hazard abates. [6] Hospitals can prepare for the admission of victims of frostbite and hypothermia; schools and other public buildings can be converted into shelters.

People can stock up on food, water, and other necessities before a cold wave. Some may even choose to migrate to places of milder climates, at least during the winter. Suitable stocks of forage can be secured before cold waves for livestock, and livestock in vulnerable areas might be shipped from affected areas or even slaughtered. Smudge pots can bring smoke that prevents hard freezes on a farm or grove. Vulnerable crops may be sprayed with water that will paradoxically protect the plants by freezing and absorbing the cold from surrounding air.

Most people can dress appropriately and can even layer their clothing should they need to go outside or should their heating fail. They can also stock candles, matches, flashlights, and portable fuel for cooking and wood for fireplaces or wood stoves, as necessary. However caution should be taken as the use of charcoal fires for cooking or heating within an enclosed dwelling is extremely dangerous due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Adults must remain aware of the exposure that children and the elderly have to cold.

Historical cold waves

21st-century cold waves (2001–present)

2019

2018

2017–2018

2017

2016

2014–2015

2013–2014

2013

2012

2010–2011

2009–2010

The first snowfall began on 17 December 2009, before a respite over the Christmas period. [32] The most severe snowy weather began on 5 January in North West England and west Scotland with temperatures hitting a low of −17.6 °C (0.3 °F) in Greater Manchester, England. [33] The snow spread to Southern England on 6 January and by 7 January the United Kingdom was blanketed in snow, [32] which was captured by NASA's Terra satellite. [34] The thaw came a week later, as temperatures started to increase. [32] The winter weather brought widespread transport disruption, school closures, power failures, the postponement of sporting events and 25 deaths. A low of −22.3 °C (−8.1 °F) was recorded in Altnaharra, Scotland on 8 January 2010. Overall it was the coldest winter since 1978–79, with a mean temperature of 1.5 °C (34.7 °F).

2008

2007

2005–2006

2004–2005

20th-century cold waves (1901–2000)

1997

1996

1995

1994

1990–1991

1989

1987

1985–1986

1985

1983

1981–1982

1979

1978

1977

1977–1979 winters

1968–1969

1966

1962–1963

1956

1954-1955

1950

1949

1941–1942

1940

1937

1936

1934

1933

1917-1918

1916-1917

1912

1904 was the coolest year on record. [59]

19th century cold waves (1801–1900)

1899

1888

1886–1887

1882–1883

1874–1875

1859

1857

1835

18th century cold waves (1701–1800)

17th century cold waves (1601–1700)

See also

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1987 United Kingdom and Ireland cold wave January 1987 snowfalls in England, UK

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February 2015 North American cold wave

The February 2015 North American cold wave was an extreme weather event that affected most of Canada and the eastern half of the United States. Following an earlier cold wave in the winter, the period of below-average temperatures contributed to an already unusually cold winter for the Eastern U.S. Several places broke their records for their coldest February on record, while some areas came very close. The cause of the cold wave was due to the polar vortex advancing southwards into the eastern parts of the U.S, and even making it as far south as the Southeast, where large snow falls are rare. By the beginning of March, although the pattern did continue for the first week, it abated and retreated near the official end of the winter.

2017–18 North American winter

The 2017–18 North American winter refers to winter in North America as it occurred across the continent from late 2017 through early 2018. Similar to the previous winter, a La Niña was expected to influence the winter weather across North America. Winter weather patterns were very active, erratic, and protracted, especially near the end of the season. Significant events included rare snowfall in the South, a strong cold wave that affected the United States during the early weeks of January, and a series of strong nor'easters that affected the Northeastern U.S during the month of March. In addition, flooding also took place during the month of February in the Central United States. Finally the winter came to a conclusion with a powerful storm system that caused a tornado outbreak and flooding in mid-April. The most intense event, however, was an extremely powerful cyclonic blizzard that impacted the northeastern United States in the first week of 2018.

The Spring 2013 United Kingdom cold spell was a period of unusually cold weather in the United Kingdom between 6 March and early April 2013. The cold spell consisted of very low temperatures and significant snowfall. Freezing temperatures worsened due to the significant overcast and cloud covered skies. Extensive snowfall occurred on 11 and 12 March in the South East, North and West of England and in Wales. England as a whole also suffered heavy snowfall on 22 and 23 March 2013.

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