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미 '살인 한파' 원인 '폴라 보텍스'가 뭐야?
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(서울=뉴스1) 조병휘 기자 =

뉴스1

ⓒ 미국설빙센터(NSIDC)


미국 북동부에 영하 40도를 넘나드는 기록적인 한파가 몰아 닥치면서 최소 16명이 사망했다고 외신들이 5일(현지시간) 보도했다.

기상 전문가들은 이번 '살인 한파'의 주범을 북부 캐나다에서 이례적으로 내려온 '극소용돌이(polar vortex)'로 지목했다. 이 극소용돌이는 맨살이 5분만 노출되어도 동상을 야기하는 강력한 냉기를 품고 있다.

극 소용돌이란 겨울철 극(極)지방 성층권에 출현하는 강한 저기압성 편서풍을 말한다. 이는 보통 길게 늘어진 형태로 시베리아 북부와 캐나다 배핀섬 주변에 머무는 것이 일반적이다.

북극 상공의 제트기류가 강력할 경우 이 강력한 냉기는 아래로 내려오지 않는다.

하지만 제트기류가 약해지면 차가운 공기가 하강해 극소용돌이가 북극의 좁은 지역에 머물지 않고 캐나다와 미국까지 남하해 영향을 미치게 된다. 시베리아 북부에 있어야 할 냉기가 대도시가 위치한 미 북동부 지역까지 내려온 형국이다.

기상학자들에 따르면 제트기류가 약해지는 이유는 북반구의 고위도 지방과 중위도 지방 간의 온도차이가 작아지기 때문으로 밝혀졌다.

일부 학자들은 이를 지구온난화의 영향으로 분석하기도 한다. 즉 북극이 따뜻해지면서 중위도 지역과 온도차이가 작아져 북극의 제트기류가 약해진다는 것이다.

한편 기상청은 올 겨울 한반도에 미국과 같은 극단적인 한파 현상이 나타날 가능성은 적은 것으로 내다봤다.

기상청 김정선 사무관은 "미국 북동부지역의 극소용돌이가 남하하는 것은 지엽적인 현상"이라며 "한반도 기온에 영향을 미치는 북극의 면적이나 변화 상태가 지난해와 크게 다르지 않기 때문에 한반도가 극소용돌이 영향권에 들어갈 가능성은 적어 보인다"고 밝혔다.

<저작권자 ⓒ 뉴스1코리아, 무단전재 및 재배포 금지>
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