If you live anywhere on the North American continent, you probably heard about the polar vortex that swept over the Midwest this week. This weather phenomenon caused a lot of unbelievable scenes throughout Canada and the upper US — including this incredible vista at Niagara Falls.
In late January as a wall of frigid arctic bore down on Canada and the upper US, plunging temperatures to -60 degrees fahrenheit in some areas. Niagara Falls didn’t escape the blast as the delicate icy sculptures in the video show.
This beautiful winter wonderland is a side effect of the extremely cold temperatures of the polar vortex meeting water vapor from the falls. The falls themselves never freeze because of how quickly the water flows: it falls at 32 feet per second, and hits the base of the falls with 2,509 tons of force at the base of Horseshoe Falls.
This massive amount of force throws water spray and vapor into the air in every direction, creating beautiful rainbows on sunny days. In the winter this mist freezes solid, coating the railings, benches and plants around the falls in layers of ice. These beautiful formations likely won’t thaw until deep into the spring.
Some other lasting effects of this intense cold snap might include flooding as the ice and snow melt, ice jams in lakes and rivers, and something called “ice quakes.” Ice quakes, called cryoseisms in the scientific community, occur when moisture from snow and rain settles into the earth and then freeze rapidly. This causes the water to expand violently — it’s almost a miniature explosion underground. These quakes can cause loud booms, bangs, small tremors that cause the ground to shake, and even sinkholes when they melt.
As global temperatures warm, snowpack in Northern Canada, Greenland and Siberia will continue to melt, weakening the polar vortex and priming it for more Southern wanderings. It’s very likely that we’ll see more of these polar snaps in the coming years. So stay warm out there and enjoy the weather while it lasts!