Is Polarized Weather the New Normal?

Chase Walz
Feb 6, 2019 · 4 min read

As 2019 is underway, we have already broken weather records in both of the Earth’s hemispheres.

Photo Credit: Behzad Ghaffari

In the US Midwest, low-temperature records were broken thanks to a polar vortex from the Arctic. Chicago was especially affected, with officials warning residents of the risk of “instant frostbite” should they venture outside.

Simultaneously, Australia made headlines for its extreme weather this month. This time, for raging wildfires and scorching heat. Once again, Australia is experiencing one of its hottest summers on record. According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the six days from January 12th to 17th have all reached Australia’s top ten hottest recorded days. These conditions have also stoked severe bushfires, power outages and now, extreme floods across the area.

North Avenue Beach of Lake Michigan, Chicago. Source: Pinar Istek, Reuters

As these extreme weather conditions have been prevalent in the news for the past few weeks, we wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty information behind these dramatic climate events. Through the application of weather and environmental data we have available to us on the Planet OS Datahub, our Data Integration Engineer, Eneli Toodu created a few incredible graphs and visualizations to help us comprehend this formidable weather.

Visualizing the Extremes

Through the application of the Meteorological Observations From Regional Basic Synoptic Network (RBSN) Dataset, available on the Datahub, Eneli was able to create the map below:

In order to illustrate the contrasting climate of the two hemispheres at a glance, Eneli compared the weather in January 2019 in both Chicago, USA and Oodnadatta, Australia to their corresponding 10-year averages* for that time. From this, we can see two incredible, yet almost oppositional trends in the two areas. In Chicago, the -4.4°C 10-year average for those weeks seems plausible for the first half of January, until towards the end of the month where we see temperatures plummet down to a staggering -33°C. Meanwhile, in Australia, the 10 year average of 32.6°C seems almost like a pipe dream as temperatures for those same weeks reach upwards of 48°C and hover around 35–45°C for the month.

*The 10-year averages for these areas were calculated using the ERA5 ten year [2008–2018] data also found on the Planet OS Datahub.

A Closer Look

To be able to analyze these climate behaviors on a more regional scale, we then transitioned to using the Global Forecast System Analysis dataset (also available on Planet OS). The NOAA GFS Analysis enables us to compare weather data on a more localized scale.

Temperatures in Chicago Area from Jan 15th-Jan 31st 2019

Above we see chilly Chicago with temperatures hovering around -1°C to -13°C in mid-January before its coldest days hit the windy city. A polar vortex (seen in shades of purple and blue) encroaches from the north-northwest, bringing temperatures down to a frigid -33°C in the area.

Temperatures in Australia from Jan 15th-Jan 31st 2019

As for Australia, above we see the ebb and flow of temperatures from very hot at 29°C to scorching hot at 48°C as the country goes from night to day from January 15th to January 31st, 2019. We can see the hottest, most unbearable temperatures plague the central areas of the country, least exposed to the thermal regulation properties offered by the coast. Queensland, a region more significantly affected by the recent fires, is shown to have been exposed to the more severe temperature highs. Also featured on the map, Tasmania is shown to have been exposed to abnormally high temperatures for the area, which have undoubtedly contributed to its devastating fire crisis.

Moving Forward

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.”

And with the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, the top four of these in the past four years, it’s no secret that action needs to be taken to ensure a hospitable climate for future generations. In an era where these profound changes in the earth’s atmosphere have raised the likelihood of a large number of extreme events, it becomes crucial to understand the potential vulnerabilities of a region to severe climate events and to be prepared for climate-related damages and risks.

The wide range of data and information available on the Datahub can aid the understanding of weather and environmental patterns and help to develop tools to use the climate to our advantage. We hope that with Planet OS, more proactive models can be created to harness Earth’s vast meteorological power for the benefit of our communities.

For more detailed examples of how you can use the Planet OS Datahub API to work with high-quality weather and environmental data, check out our Jupyter Notebooks or visit If you like to receive email updates when new data becomes available, subscribe to the Planet OS newsletter.

Planet OS (by Intertrust)

Provided by Intertrust Technologies

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