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The silent white killer -Cold Waves -Extreme Temperature
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A cold wave is a weather phenomenon that is distinguished by a cooling of the air.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.


What constitutes extreme cold and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered “extreme cold.” Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases,heat can leave your body more rapidly.
These weatherrelated conditions may lead to serious health problems.Extreme cold is a dangerous situation that can bring on health emergencies in susceptible people, such as those without shelter or who are stranded, or who live in a home that is poorly insulated or without heat.

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On the other hand we should not make confusion between cold waves and abrupt climate change.
Abrupt climate change has a specific definition and should not be confused with climate changes that occur slowly or individual extreme events that affect relatively small areas. Abrupt climate change refers to sudden (on the order of decades), large changes in some major component of the climate system, with rapid, widespread effects. The potential for abrupt climate changes cannot be predicted with confidence; however, abrupt climate changes are an important consideration because, if triggered, they could occur so quickly and unexpectedly that human or natural systems would have difficulty adapting to them (NRC, 2002).
Abrupt climate changes occur when a threshold in the climate system is crossed – a trigger that causes the climate to rapidly shift from one state to a new, different one. Crossing thresholds in the climate system may lead to large and widespread consequences (Schneider et al., 2007).
These triggers can be forces that are “external” or “internal” to the climate system. Examples of these triggers include:

    changes in the Earth’s orbit
    a brightening or dimming of the sun
    melting or surging ice sheets
    strengthening or weakening of ocean currents
    emissions of climate-altering gases and particles into the atmosphere

More than one of these triggers can operate simultaneously, since all components of the climate system are linked.
Scientific data show that abrupt changes in the climate at the regional scale have occurred throughout history and are characteristic of the Earth’s climate system (NRC, 2002). During the last glacial period, abrupt regional warmings (likely up to 16°C within decades over Greenland) and coolings occurred repeatedly over the North Atlantic region (Jansen et al., 2007). These warmings likely had some large-scale effects such as major shifts in tropical rainfall patterns and redistribution of heat within the climate system but it is unlikely that they were associated with large changes in global mean surface temperature.



Abrupt changes in weather patterns might occur spontaneously due to interactions in the atmosphere-ice-ocean system, or from the crossing of a threshold from slow external forcing (as described above) (Meehl et al., 2007). In a warming climate, changes in the frequency and amplitudes of these patterns might not only evolve
rapidly, but also trigger other processes that lead to abrupt climate change (NRC, 2002). Examples of these patterns include the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Atlantic Oscillation/Arctic Oscillation (NAO/OA).
Scientists have investigated the possibility of an abrupt slowdown or shutdown of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) triggered by greenhouse gas forcing. The MOC transfers large quantities of heat to the North Atlantic and Europe, so an abrupt change in the MOC could have important implications for the climate
of this region (Meehl et al., 2007). However, according to Meehl et al. (2007), the probability of an abrupt change in (or shutdown of) the MOC is low: “It is very unlikely that the MOC will undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century. Longer-term changes in the MOC cannot be assessed with confidence.” The slowdown in the MOC projected by most models is gradual, so the resulting decrease in heat transport to the North Atlantic and Europe would not be large enough to reverse the warming that results from the increase in greenhouse gases.



The rapid disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS), which would raise sea levels 7 meters, is another commonly discussed abrupt change. Although models suggest the complete melting of the GIS would only require sustained warming in the range 1.9°C to 4.6°C (relative to the pre-industrial temperatures), it is expected to be a
slow process that would take many hundreds of years to complete (Meehl et al., 2007).
A collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), which would raise seas 5-6 meters, has been discussed as a low-probability, high-impact response to global warming (NRC, 2002; Meehl et al., 2007). The weakening or collapse of ice shelves, caused by melting on the surface or by melting at the bottom by a warmer ocean, might
contribute to a potential destabilization of the WAIS. If ice discharge accelerates, it is possible that sea level could rise faster than projected in the IPCC scenarios. However, there is presently no consensus on the long-term future of the WAIS or its contribution to sea level rise (Meehl et al., 2007).

For more information on this issue, visit NOAA's Abrupt Climate Change Web site and see the National Resource Council report "Abrupt Climate Change: InevitableSurprises" Exit EPA Disclaimer (a short 4 page summary is also available (PDF, 4 pp., 714 KB, About PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer)

In addition, visit the CCSP Web site for more information about ongoing multi-agency research on abrupt climate change. An analysis on this topic is underway and will be completed by 2008.


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 at considerable cost to farmers to feed livestock.


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 as antifreeze fails and motor oil gels, resulting even in the 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 any cold air that a fire draws in is likely to cause a more intense fire because the colder, denser air contains more oxygen.
Winter cold waves that aren't 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 Kentucky, northern Utah, or Bavaria would be catastrophic to winter crops in southern Florida, southern Arizona, or southern Spain that might be grown for wintertime consumption farther north, or to such all-year tropical or subtropical crops as citrus fruits. Likewise, abnormal cold waves that penetrate into tropical countries in which people do not customarily insulate houses or have reliable heating may cause hypothermia and even frostbite.


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.


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.



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.

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Different examples around the World of Cold Waves :

The Great Blizzard of 1888; America’s Greatest Snow Disaster
As temperatures soared into the mid-70°s this week in New York City, it is hard to believe this is the 124th anniversary of New York’s and America’s worst blizzard on record (and happens to share the same days as this year). The temperature in the city fell to 6° during the storm on March 13th, the coldest temperature ever measured
there so late in the season. Few storms are as iconic as the famous blizzard of’88. It was the deadliest, snowiest, and most unusual winter storm in American annals.




No storm of similar magnitude has ever occurred anywhere in the contiguous United States since. Over 400 perished including 200 in New York City alone, many literally buried in drifts in downtown Manhattan. Here is a recap of this famous event.

The Winter of 1888: ‘The Children’s Blizzard’

As Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini noted in their classic compendium Northeast Snowstorms (published by the American Meteorological Society) the Blizzard of ’88 was a “unique storm” for several reasons. Firstly, most severe winter storms that affect the Northeast are preceded by an outbreak of cold air across the eastern U.S.,
usually centered over northern New England or southern Canada. No such air mass was in place prior to the development of the storm. Secondly, the storm center became stationary and actually made a counterclockwise loop off the coast of southern New England while maintaining its peak intensity (with a central pressure of
approximately 980 mb). Instead of moving along the usual SW to NE path that severe winter storms follow, the low-pressure center just gradually filled in and dissipated, eventually drifting slowly out to sea.



January of 1888 saw the most intense cold wave on record impact the Inter-mountain west and Northwest portions of the country. This spread eastward during the third week of the month bringing additional all-time cold records to the upper Midwest.
Some of the all-time coldest temperatures recorded in January 1888 that still stand today include the following:

-24° at Lakeview, Oregon on Jan. 15
-28° at Boise, Idaho on Jan. 16
-42° at Missoula, Montana on Jan. 16
-36° at Ely, Nevada on Jan. 16
-30° at Spokane, Washington on Jan. 16
-41° at St. Paul (Minneapolis), Minnesota on Jan. 21
-36° at Green Bay, Wisconsin on Jan. 21

The coldest temperature during the month was a -56.8° at Poplar River, Montana on January 15th. Of course, there were very few weather stations in the far west and Rocky Mountain areas in 1888, so many other locations would probably have had record low temperatures if they had observation sites at that early date.
The cold wave was preceded by a terrific blizzard in the upper Plains and Midwest on January 12-13. Known as ‘The Children’s Blizzard’ (as immortalized by David Laskin in his superb book of the same name) approximately 200-250 settlers died from exposure, mostly children trapped in the storm on their way home from isolated prairie
schools in South Dakota and Minnesota. Ironically, this was probably the second deadliest blizzard in U.S. history aside from the east coast storm that this blog focuses on.

Overview of the European Cold Wave a Snowfall During February 2012
The great European cold wave of February 2012 has finally begun to loosen its grip the past couple of days as temperatures have risen above freezing across most of the
continent. The cold wave was the sharpest since 1991 or 1987 depending upon what source you use. Below are some of the event’s highlights.

As of February 17 the death toll from the cold wave has topped 650 with most of the cold-related fatalities occurring in the Ukraine and Russia. However, the only all-time cold record set at any specific location was a reading of -33.8°C at Astrakhan in Russia (located on the north shore of the Caspian Sea) on February 9th (previous record was -33.0°C in February 1954). Most of the temperatures reported were far short of their all-time records. The coldest unofficial temperature reported was -49.7°F (-45.4°C) at an undisclosed and uninhabited valley in Switzerland by a RAWS (remote automated weather site) and the coldest officially measured was a -
45.0°F (-42.8°C) reading in Sweden.
Below is a table of the coldest temperatures officially recorded in each country during so far this February. The last columns of figures are the all-time national cold records for each country in C°:
The persistence of the cold was no that unusual for a mid-winter cold wave in Europe but was nevertheless shocking to most residents since it has been at least 20 years since the last cold wave of this magnitude has occurred. In Brussels, Belgium the temperature stayed below freezing for 14 consecutive days, close to the record
17 such set in the brutal cold wave of January 1941. Bucharest, Romania finally warmed up above freezing on February 16th for the first time since January 24th (the average high temperature for this period of time is 37°F/3°C) The Danube River has frozen over trapping commercial vessels in their ports or at anchor costing shipping companies millions of dollars in losses.

Advices and useful info's

When winter temperatures drops ignificantly below normal, staying warm and safe can become a challenge.Extremely cold temperatures often accompany a winter storm, so you may have to cope with power failures and icy roads. Although staying indoors as much as possible can help reduce the risk of car crashes and falls on the ice, you may also face indoor hazards. Many homes will be too cold—either due to a power failure or because the heating system isn’t adequate for the weather.

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When people must use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause other serious or life-threatening health problems.Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk, but anyone can be affected. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises.

Plan ahead

Although periods of extreme cold cannot always be predicted far in advance, weather forecasts can sometimes provide you with several days’ notice. Listen to weather forecasts regularly, and check your emergency supplies
whenever a period of extreme cold is predicted. If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year.Ask your local fire department to recommend an inspector,
or find one in the yellow pages of your telephone directory under “chimney cleaning.” Also, if you’ll be using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice yearly.

Emergency Supplies List:
• an alternate way to heat your home during a power failure: - dry firewood for a fireplace or wood stove, or  kerosene for a kerosene heater
• furnace fuel (coal, propane, or oil)
• electric space heater with automatic shut-off switch and non-glowing elements
• blankets
• matches
• multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher
• first aid kit and instruction manual
• flashlight or battery-powered lantern
• battery-powered radio
• battery-powered clock or watch
• extra batteries
• non-electric can opener
• snow shovel
• rock salt
• special needs items (diapers,hearing aid batteries,medications, etc.)

Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes rupture.

When very cold temperatures are expected:
• Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
• Keep the indoor temperature warm.
• Improve the circulation of heated air nearpipes. For example, open kitchen cabinet doors beneath the kitchen sink.
If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch.
Instead, thaw them slowly by directing the warm air from an electric hair dryer onto the pipes.
If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes are ruptured, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home. As an emergency measure—if no other water is available — snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling

Winter Survival Kit for Your Car

Equip your car with these items:
• blankets
• first aid kit
• a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for water)
• windshield scraper
• booster cables
• road maps
• mobile phone
• compass
• tool kit
• paper towels
• bag of sand or cat litter(to pour on ice or snow for added traction)
• tow rope
• tire chains (in areas with heavy snow)
• collapsible shovel
• container of water and high-calorie canned or dried foods and a can opener
• flashlight and extra batteries
• canned compressed air with sealant (foremergency tire repair)
• brightly colored cloth

Useful Terms Definition:

NOAA's National Weather Service urges residents to keep abreast of local forecasts and warnings and familiarize themselves with key weather terminology.
Winter Storm Warning: Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.
Winter Storm Watch: Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.
Winter Storm Outlook: Issued prior to a Winter Storm Watch. The Outlook is given when forecasters believe winter storm conditions are possible and are usually issued 3 to 5 days in advance of a winter storm.
Blizzard Warning: Issued for sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow creating visibilities at or below ? mile; these conditions should persist for at least three hours.
Lake Effect Snow Warning: Issued when heavy lake effect snow is imminent or occurring.
Lake Effect Snow Advisory: Issued when accumulation of lake effect snow will cause significant inconvenience.
Wind Chill Warning: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes of exposure.



Wind Chill Advisory: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be a significant inconvenience to life with prolonged exposure, and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to hazardous exposure.
Winter Weather Advisories: Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.
Dense Fog Advisory: Issued when fog will reduce visibility to ? mile or less over a widespread area.
Snow Flurries: Light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or light dusting is all that is expected.
Snow Showers: Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.
Snow Squalls: Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant. Snow squalls are best known in the Great Lakes region.
Blowing Snow: Wind-driven snow that reduces visibility and causes significant drifting. Blowing snow may be snow that is falling and/or loose snow on the ground picked up by the wind.
Sleet: Rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists.

Freezing Rain: Rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing. This causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars, and roads, forming a coating or glaze of ice. Even small accumulations of ice can cause a significant hazard.
What is Wind Chill?

One of the gravest dangers of winter weather is wind chill. The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin by combined effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature.
Animals are also effected by wind chill

Sources : (personal pictures of friends group)

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