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Research Last Updated: Feb 2, 2019 - 3:30:19 PM

Polar Vortex Tests Resilience of US Gas and Power Networks
By Dr. Nasrullah Khan Kalair, www.kalair.org 2/2/19
Feb 2, 2019 - 3:28:51 PM

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A cup of hot coffee in blizzards and a glass of cold water in sultry storm explain the climate change. Cold wave and heat wave are two weather extremes. Intensity, duration and frequency of wild weathers are increasing worldwide. Polar vortex led to one meter snow in some US states on 29/30 January 2019. Wind chill in many cities is colder than North Pole. Wind chill plummeted down to -59°C, which is coldest US winter in last 50 years. At this temperature the boiling water hurled in air condenses before reaching ground. According US experts,” breathing the blistering cold air risks severe health problems. Both hypothermia and frostbite are major worries when temperatures stretch into bitter minus figures, and this has prompted some local governments to declare a state of emergency.” [Liam 2019]. According to John et al,” A historic and deadly cold snap, fueled by the polar vortex, gripped a wide swath of the nation Wednesday, with temperatures plunging far below zero and wind chill numbers as extraordinary… Death toll reached 8 and people warned to stay inside homes,” [John 2019]. Polar vortex tightened its grip on Midwestern United States. Biting winds make the cold life threatening as wind chill may cause frostbite in minutes on exposed skin surface. It is advisable to stay home during cold wave.Energy is life. Energy thrives on energy as life thrives on life.

US Polar Vortex 2014 had dipped temperature down from -20°F to -47°F in 2014. Polar Vortex 2014 had increased power demand to 103% to 120% that led to power and gas deficits during cold snap.  US utilities learnt and upgraded their reliability which exhibited its resilience during polar vortex 2019. According to NERC Report on Polar Vortex 2014,” … Extreme cold weather also had a major impact on generator equipment. Of the approximately 19,500 MW of capacity lost due to cold weather conditions, over 17,700 MW was due to frozen equipment. Many outages, including a number of those in the southeastern United States, were the result of temperatures that fell below the plant’s design basis for cold weather. At the height of generation outages (January 7 at 0800) the southeastern United States accounted for approximately 9,800 MW of the outages attributed to cold weather.” [NERC 2014]. US utilities learnt from cold wave and improved the resilience of life lines. US Natural Gas, Water and Power Utilities repelled the Polar Vortex 2019. The natural gas and electric systems across the U.S. have been under less pressure compared to the previous polar vortex in 2014. However, some utilities urged consumers to use less energy during polar vortex to which consumers responded [Tsvetana, 2019].

However, according Dino,” The polar vortex is poised to deliver a one-two punch to power systems across the eastern half of the United States. Not only are residents demanding more heat and electricity while staying indoors, the icy and windy weather is straining generating stations, power lines and other infrastructure that deliver that power… Power generators in the PJM regional grid, which stretches from Illinois to New Jersey, were instructed to insulate pipes and top off backup fuel tanks ahead of the cold... The Minneapolis-based electric utility Xcel Energy has asked Minnesotans to turn their thermostats down to 63 degrees Fahrenheit through Thursday morning because of a “significant strain on our natural gas system due to extreme weather… At one point on Wednesday morning, for example, 50,000 homes and businesses served by Commonwealth Edison, the biggest electric utility in Illinois, were without power, mostly in the towns and cities north and south of Chicago. Service was restored to most of those customers by the afternoon… Outages also rolled through parts of Wisconsin and Iowa early that day, affecting about 7,000 customers..,” [Dino 2019]. Chiefs of energy and cyber security met during Polar Vortex-19. According to Sonal, ”PJM’s preliminary load forecast for Thursday is about 143,000 MW, “which would approach the all-time confirmed winter peak of 143,338 MW, set on Feb. 20, 2015… On Thursday morning, nearly 20,000 customers in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and New Jersey had no power, according to poweroutage.us.” [Sonal 2019]. However natural gas shortage was realized during polar vortex days. According to Umair,”For Michigan, another major factor in the gas shortage was a fire at a Consumers Energy gas compressor facility on Wednesday. So with this high demand and lower supply, utilities are worried there may not be enough gas to go around for everyone to keep their homes toasty. Hence, the requests to leave thermostats in the low to mid-60s…. The White House, meanwhile, has raised the specter of natural gas supply shortages like this one as a national security issue, invoking it as a justification for building new natural gas pipelines.”[Umair 2019]. Natural gas prices were increasing in December 2018 [Jude 2018], but did not increase during polar vortex days, that is how nations respond to natural calamities.

Polar vortex reinforces cold waves as jet streams reinforce heat waves around equator. Heat and cold waves increase electricity and gas demand. According to Steve, “The excruciatingly cold blast of winter weather that plunged a wide swath of the nation into a deep freeze was showing little signs of easing Thursday as it shattered all-time record lows in at least two Illinois cities….. Rockford bottomed out at 30 below zero, and Moline dipped to 33 below. Still in question was whether Illinois would set its all-time state record low temperature Thursday of 36 below zero. Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed again Thursday, including more than 1,400 in and out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.  With increased demand for power to warm homes and businesses in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pleaded for conservation on behalf of Consumers Energy, a utility powering about two-thirds of the state. Due to this extremely cold weather and this extremely high demand for natural gas, and a facility incident, Consumers Energy has asked that everyone in the Lower Peninsula turn our thermostats down to 65 degrees or less… ” [Steve 2019].

Power and gas shortages in heat and cold waves increase demand and pilferages. It is time to honestly share energy resources. Cold and heat waves two limits of weather extremes. Cold wave of -29°C may feel like -45°C due to chilly winds as heat wave at 40°C feels like 53°C due to humidity. The frostbite sets in few minutes and pains like heat burns. According to Jonathan, “An eighteen-year-old student of University of Iawa, Gerard Belz, was found unresponsive on campus early Wednesday morning just a short walk from his dorm. There is strong fear of finger tips and toes amputation with frostbite. Tens of millions of Americans braved Arctic-like temperatures on Thursday as low as minus 56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 49 Celsius) that paralyzed the U.S. Midwest and were blamed for at least 21 deaths. Officials across multiple states linked numerous deaths to the frigid air.” [Jonathan 2019].

Climate change inflicts forest fires in East and deep freeze in west. The sunup in west after sundown in East. Chinook (ice eater) winds in Canada are warmed adiabatically by hilltop dissipating clouds. Chinooks (föhn winds) in the interior West of North America, where the Canadian Prairies and Great Plains meet various mountain ranges, raise winter temperature from -20°C to +20°C within hours [Burrows 2016]. A similar lightning triggered rain phenomenon brings sudden floods in Swat hills. Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) are caused by valley glaciers melting because of warmer temperatures in the summer months, and forming lakes – hidden or visible – which then break out of the moraine and ice that dams them. The water gushes below into the valleys at great speeds, destroying everything in its path. Local people link the flash floods to lightning incidence and meteorologists give glacial lake outburst flood type explanations [Rina 2015].

A 1km long and several feet thick glacier avalanche incidence overwhelmed 135 people in Skardu near Siachen [Shabbir 2012]. Temperature in Siachen may dip down to -32°C (summer) to -50°C (winter). Chaudhary calls it a snow hell for its effects similar, but opposite to red hell (fire) [Javed 2012]. Siachen was no man’s land till 1980s, but India captured 66% of it in 1984 the rest is in Pakistan. Presence of Indian Army on world’s highest glaciers is badly affecting climate due to oil consumptions. Pak Army often rescues hikers trapped in snow storms on K-2 in summer [Shabbir 2018]. The mountain climbers who are trapped in blizzards know the true power of nature.

US universities do not suspend classes as far as possible, but deep freeze forced administration to shut down classes for two days. America face more natural catastrophes than any other country. She faces twisters, snow storms and hurricanes. Frequency, duration and intensities of natural disasters are increasing yet US withdrawn from Paris Accord and reversed climate change policy. A big freeze engulfed America by severe snowstorm chaos in 2018. According to Alice, “The cold and snowy weather was blamed for at least 18 deaths in 2018. Four died in accident and three homeless in Texas. From northern Florida up through New York City into New England, tens of millions of people were under wind chill and freeze warnings throughout the day.” [Alice 2018]. Snowstorm 2019 is attributed to polar vortex. The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth's poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term "vortex" refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles.

Resonant GHG emissions are pushing the limits of two extremes of climate pendulum swing across the planet. Resonant nuisance enhancement may cause extremely diverse weather conditions simultaneously anywhere. Uncontrolled climate change triggered blizzards and sultry storms are spelling fear of Heat Death in Far East (Australia/New Zealand) and Big Freeze in Far West. Global climate changes are reminiscent of weather pendulum from east to west. Heat wave effects in winter months rise up to +40°C to +50°C in Australia/New Zealand and cold wave effects fall down to -50°C in America/Canada marking a 100°C temperature gradient. Temperature gradients between polar and equatorial regions push jet streams to north in winter. Jet streams are Air Rivers flowing at speed of 200km per hour at 7 to 10km height in troposphere. A worst form of jet stream is polar vortex responsible for big freeze in Polar Regions. Annual, decadal, three decadal, centurial and millennial scales climate change are documented in literature. Climate pendulum swing oscillates between extreme cold and hot weathers on global scale. According to Ayako,” Science has struggled to explain fully why an ice age occurs every 100,000 years… researchers now demonstrate computer based simulation, not only do variations in insolation play a key role, but also the mutual influence of glaciated continents and climate…Week feedback effects have strong impacts on climate.” [Ayako 2013].

US Water, Power and Natural Gas utilities have responded well to Polar Vortex 2019 that is an example for other utilities worldwide. Polar Vortex 2019 was expected to bring nearly 90% of US in deep freeze, yet the basic lifelines were expected to continue working using demand response energy management system [Michael 2019]. According to Dan,” The Midwest's utilities managed their way through a deep freeze this week with few major service interruptions in part by working with customers to reduce demand... Their performance this week will be closely scrutinized as the Trump administration seeks support for its idea that coal and nuclear plants are essential for the country's energy security... Energy Secretary Rick Perry has argued that coal and nuclear plants, because they can keep weeks or even months of fuel on site, are necessary to maintain the reliability of the electricity system during emergencies that may arise from weather, cyberattacks or other threats…Energy analysts and environmental advocates say there is little reliability benefit to plants having their fuel on site because utilities and power grids have adapted to greater variability… Outages occur, but mostly because of problems with the power lines and pipes that deliver the electricity and natural gas… PJM found that much of the unavailable power plant capacity was because natural gas supplies were not flowing to those plants due to constraints in their delivery systems. But the problems went beyond gas. Of the 40,200 megawatts that were not available then, 19,000 were at natural gas plants and 13,700 were at coal plants, followed by other fuels.” [Dan 2019]. Demand response is a good initiative during heat and cold waves yet dynamic load control mechanism works more reliably than demand response hypothesis. Even a better alternative is to teach consumers on moral grounds to reduce their demand themselves during national emergencies.


Liam D, US snow MAP: Chicago as cold as NORTH POLE as Midwest faces COLDEST WINTER in 50 years, Express UK, 30 January 2019. https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1080089/US-snow-chicago-weather-warning-National-Weather-Service-NWS-USA-coldest-winter

John B, Aamer M, Doyle R, Stay inside: Death toll up to 8 people as Arctic cold blasts Midwest, East

USA Today, 30 January 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/01/30/minnesota-pennsylvania-chicago-weather-us-cold-polar-vortex-hits-mail/2718851002/


NERC, Polar Vortex Review, September 2014



Tsvetana P, Polar Votex Tests US Natural Gas, electric Systems, Oil Price, 1 February 2019



Dino G, The Energy 202: Polar vortex tests gas and electric systems in Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Washington Post, 31 January 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-energy-202/2019/01/31/the-energy-202-polar-vortex-tests-gas-and-electric-systems-in-midwest-mid-atlantic/5c5211321b326b29c3778d29/?utm_term=.53d351792794

Sonal P, Polar Vortex Tests Resiliency of U.S. Power System, Power Magazine, 31 January 2019. https://www.powermag.com/polar-vortex-tests-resiliency-of-u-s-power-system/

Umair I, It’s outrageously cold in Michigan! Why is the governor asking people to turn down their heat?, Vox, 31 January 2019. https://www.vox.com/2019/1/31/18205244/polar-vortex-cold-heat-natural-gas

Jude C, U.S. Natural Gas Prices Riding The Roller Coaster, Forbes, 23 December 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2018/12/23/u-s-natural-gas-prices-riding-the-roller-coaster/#150ac282dbeb


Steve K, Aamer M, John B, All-time record cold reported in Illinois cities as US freeze shows little signs of easing, USA TODAY, 31 January 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/01/31/polar-vortex-2019-deadly-storm-temperatures-thursday/2729218002/

Jonathan A, Over 20 dead in U.S. polar vortex, frostbite amputations feared, Yahoo News, 1 February 2019. https://www.yahoo.com/news/u-polar-vortex-blamed-least-21-deaths-001814490.html

Burrows, Alvin. "The Chinook Winds". Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture. US Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 6 February 2016.

Rina SK, Chitral floods: Why melting glaciers may not be the cause, Dawn, 3 August 2015. https://www.dawn.com/news/1197805

Shabbir AM, Farman A, Avalanche traps 135 people near Siachen, rescue operation underway, Express Tribune, 7 April 2012. https://tribune.com.pk/story/361097/avalanche-traps-over-100-pakistani-soldiers-report/

Javed C, Snow Hell, Express News, Urdu Newspaper, columns, 10 April 2012. http://www.dailyurdunews.com/javedchaudhry/tag/burf-ka-dozakh/page/170/

Shabir M, Army rescues two foreign mountaineers in daring mission after deadly avalanche, Express Tribune, 1 July 2018. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1747258/1-pakistan-army-rescues-two-foreign-mountaineers/

Alice F, US weather map: How cold is it in the USA right now? Big freeze MAPPED, Express UK, 6 January 2018. https://www.express.co.uk/news/weather/900947/how-cold-is-it-USA-now-weather-map-freeze-US-snowstorm

Ayako AO, Fuyuki S, Kenji K, Maureen ER, Jun’ichi O, Kunio T, Heinz B, Insolation-driven 100,000-year glacial cycles and hysteresis of ice-sheet volume. Nature, 500 (7461): 190, 2013

Michael B, ‘Polar Vortex’ Will Have Nearly 90 Percent Of US Below-Freezing, WUWT, 29 January 2019


Dan G, How the Midwest's Utilities Survived the Polar Vortex, Inside Climate News, 1 February 2019


Source:Ocnus.net 2018

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