Freezing and Curious: Polar Vortex Basics

By Carly Wellener

Unless you’ve been living buried under piles of homework for the past few months, you’ve probably noticed the brutally cold weather we’ve had this winter. Going with the assumption that you are, in fact, not buried beneath mountains of this homework, you have also probably heard the term “polar vortex” thrown around quite a bit on the news. But does anyone really know what this “polar vortex” is other than a swirly, demon-thingy on the radar that somehow made it way too cold to do anything for a few weeks this winter? Well as it turns out, the polar vortex that has been bothering us isn’t a swirly, demon-thingy nor is it Elsa’s magic from Disney’s new movie Frozen.

There are two polar vortexes on Earth, one at each pole. The vortex causing our problems is, you guessed it, the one at the North Pole. Polar vortexes are wind patterns that occur largely in the upper atmosphere. Usually the winds are strong and the vortex spins just about straight west to east. During the years when the vortex is strong, the cold weather stays well contained in the pole. But in some years, for unknown reasons, the polar vortex is weaker and the spinning pattern is not as straight causing the cold weather to dip further south. In these weaker vortex years, like this one we’ve been experiencing, the frigid air from the poles is brought further south to places like our good old Ohio.

Click HERE to watch the Great Lakes freeze!

                                                 

    Strong Vortex Year (Image 1)                                                                   Weak Vortex Year (Image 2)

If you want to learn more about polar vortexes for some reason, click any of these sources below.

Sources:

http://youtu.be/mxvVDtKZ3I0

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/arctic/atmosphere/polar_vortex_2014.html

http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/future/warm_arctic_cold_continent.html

http://www.weather.com/news/weather-winter/polar-vortex-facts-and myths-20140107

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/06/us/polar-vortex-explained/