What the Summer Polar Vortex Means for Home Cooling Costs

Polar VortexMost years, Grand Rapids, Michigan residents expect hot temperatures in July and August. Historically the hottest months of the year, they typically usher in several weeks of blistering heat, with temperatures reaching into the 90s or hundreds.

As a result of summer heat waves, homeowners with air conditioning crank up their cooling systems, depending on these devices to keep the air inside their homes fresh and comfortable. The ensuing electricity bills may comprise a larger portion of the household budget, presenting financial difficulties for many families.

However, an unusual period of cooler temperatures in the Midwest has reached Grand Rapids, yielding 60- and 70-degree days that feel more like fall than summer. Although meteorologists disagree on whether or not this event represents a “polar vortex” (similar to the one that occurred over the winter), no one questions the result – especially when they receive their energy bills.

What Caused the Summer Cool-Down?

Temperatures in Grand Rapids began to fall in early July as two cold fronts traveled across the Midwest. A pair of weather systems in the planet’s troposphere (from 0 to 7 miles from Earth) triggered the cool-down when they combined before traversing the region. Since then, temperatures have remained up to 20 degrees cooler than average, leading to speculation as to whether this represents a larger climatological event.

Some individuals attribute the extended period of mild weather to a polar vortex, an event taking place in the stratosphere (the layer above the troposphere, extending from 7 to 31 miles from Earth). However, based on the depth at which meteorologists have measured the atmospheric shifts, this appears to be a case of mistaken nomenclature.

What the Mild Weather Means for Energy Expenses

Regardless of the linguistic designation of the extended cool-down, the results remain the same. Residents across the Midwest have been abandoning swimming pools, turning their air conditioners off (or up), and opening windows to enjoy the flow of fresh, cool air through their homes.

The less frequent use of air conditioning will certainly lead to lower cooling bills for these individuals. On average, air conditioners cost 42 cents per hour to operate, representing tens or hundreds of dollars on homeowners’ electricity bills. When Michigan residents receive their bills over the next few weeks, many of them will experience a welcome surprise.

The same will not be true, however, for regional energy companies. Wisconsin Energy Corp., for instance, projects its profits will decrease by 16 percent this quarter, attributing its drop in share prices to the unseasonably cool summer. With July as their “peak season,” energy providers and their shareholders are likely less excited about the mild weather than their customers.

Taking Advantage of the July Cool-Down

As Grand Rapids continues to experience the effects of the two cold fronts, air conditioners will continue to enjoy a reprieve from punishing summer heat. Residents who use the opportunity to clean or change filters and perform other routine maintenance tasks will not only benefit from lower cooling bills – they will also prepare themselves well for any late-summer heat waves!

What differences have you noticed in your energy expenses during this unseasonably cool summer?

image credit: Chicago.cbslocal.com

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