What is a Polar Vortex?

If you’re in the Midwest, you know it was cold. So cold. Crazy cold. So what is a polar vortex?

Polar Vortex 2019 Selfie

What is a polar vortex?

I’m not a scientist, but here’s my understanding of what a polar vortex is. First off, polar vortices are nothing new. They’ve been known to exist for quite a long time.

Basically, a polar vortex is a low pressure area. It’s an area of cold air that sits in polar regions. These vortices can expand and contract, and an expansion increases the chances that the North Pole vortex can be pushed to the South.

When the cold air is displaced, it heads South, sometimes directly into the Great Plains and Midwest. Then, polar vortex = extreme weather.

Why is a polar vortex so dangerous?

Polar vortices are dangerous mainly due to the baseline temperatures being so low. These are exacerbated by strong winds in some areas, where the real danger begin. The winds drop wind chill values, which can lead to serious implications for those not prepared.

This polar vortex had wind chill temperatures dropping down to minus 30 to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the Great Plains and Midwest. At such extreme temperatures, engines may not start, exposed skin can get frostbitten, and even hypothermia. These are serious issues with serious consequences.

Polar Vortex 2019 forecast

Forecasting a polar vortex

In the old days, meteorology seemed to be as much guesswork as science. Even the next day’s forecast had to be taken with a grain of salt. However, forecasts have gotten more and more accurate over time, and this year’s polar vortex is a good example of this.

The polar vortex was forecast as much as a month in advance by some meteorologists, and then 10 days out, and then incrementally closer.

The forecasts were accurate both for the days, the temps, and the duration in general. It’s pretty amazing that we had so much warning over something that was so dangerous.

Polar vortex aside, it’s always good to be prepared, have a go bag with the 10 essentials, and bring along a winter driving emergency kit during the cold months of the year.


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