What is the Polar Vortex

By: Jessica Bruening

Every winter, we are usually hit with a week or two of extremely cold temperatures, reaching down to the negative twenties, known as the polar vortex. For us, this really only means that we will probably get a few days off school, but there is actually a scientific explanation for having a week of frigid temperatures. Here are some things you may not know about the polar vortex.

The polar vortex actually exists all winter long. It is a large pocket of cold air in the northern hemisphere that sits over the polar Arctic region during the winter months. Every once in a while, a high pressure system will push it down towards Canada and even the US. This is what causes the subzero temperatures for a few days. Eventually, the strong air weakens causing the polar vortex to retreat back to the Arctic region, and the temperature warms up again. This year, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa were hit the hardest. North Dakota reached -57 degrees, Iowa reached -58, South Dakota got down to -62 and Minnesota got the coldest at -65. As the polar vortex continues to return to the Midwest year after year, scientists have begun to question if it has something to do with climate change. One theory is that air currents over North America and Europe are affected by warming temperatures, and interact with the polar vortex, bringing it south. Another possibility is that as sea ice continues to melt, heat from the warm summer air is absorbed in the water. Then in the winter, the warm air is released, resulting in strong winds. These winds then move the polar vortex south. These theories are still fairly new, but research is continuing to develop. Hopefully we won’t see temperature in the -20s again this winter (although some more snow days would be nice). The polar vortex will most likely be back next year, but at least now you know why it’s happening!

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