Understanding the Arctic polar vortex (2022)

In late February, as the Southern Plains and Gulf Coast suffered through an unusually strong blast of wintry weather, weather talk turned to the polar vortex and the possibility that the extreme cold was yet another example of weather-gone-wild due to global warming. In this article, we’re talking to two NOAA experts about the devastating extreme cold event, the polar vortex, and the potential link to global warming.

Polar vortex versus polar jet stream

The Arctic polar vortex is a band of strong westerly winds that forms in the stratosphere between about 10 and 30 miles above the North Pole every winter. The winds enclose a large pool of extremely cold air. (There is an even stronger polar vortex in the Southern Hemisphere stratosphere in its winter.) The stronger the winds, the more the air inside is isolated from warmer latitudes, and the colder it gets.

When the Arctic polar vortex is especially strong and stable (left globe), it encourages the polar jet stream, down in the troposphere, to shift northward. The coldest polar air stays in the Arctic. When the vortex weakens, shifts, or splits (right globe), the polar jet stream often becomes extremely wavy, allowing warm air to flood into the Arctic and polar air to sink down into the mid-latitudes. NOAA Climate.gov graphic, adapted from original by NOAA.gov.

According to NOAA stratosphere expert Amy Butler, people often confuse the polar vortex with the polar jet stream, but the two are in completely separate layers of the atmosphere. The polar jet stream occurs in the troposphere, at altitudes between 5-9 miles above the surface. It marks the boundary between surface air masses, separating warmer, mid-latitude air and colder, polar air. It’s the polar jet stream that plays such a big role in our day-to-day winter weather in the mid-latitudes, not the polar vortex.

The polar vortex and our winter weather

The polar vortex doesn’t always influence winter weather in the mid-latitudes. When it does, however, the effects can be extreme. When the polar vortex is especially strong, for example, the polar jet steam tends to stay farther north and to exhibit a more zonal flow, with less meandering. At the surface, this stable stratospheric state is often associated with an even colder than usual Arctic, and milder-than-usual weather in the mid-latitudes. The Arctic Oscillation, which tracks hemisphere-scale wind and air pressure patterns, is often positive.

At the other extreme, the polar vortex is occasionally knocked off kilter when especially strong atmospheric waves in the troposphere break upward into the stratosphere. The vortex slows, and it may wobble, slide off the pole, split into several lobes, or—in the most extreme cases—temporarily reverse direction. Regardless of their “flavor,” these disruptions have one thing in common: a spike in polar stratosphere temperatures, which is why they’re called sudden stratospheric warmings.

In the weeks following the stratospheric upheaval, the polar jet stream will often develop a wavy shape, with deep troughs and steep ridges that can become nearly stationary for days. The exact nature of the interaction—how the polar jet “feels” the disruption in the polar vortex and why it reacts the way it does—isn’t fully understood. Under the high-pressure ridges, warm air floods north into parts of the Arctic, often driving extreme melt, while polar air fills the low-pressure troughs, bringing wintry conditions farther south than average. The Arctic Oscillation often slips into its negative phase.

(Video) Polar Vortex - How it's formed & When it is dangerous | In-depth Explained

Temperature (purple is cooler, pink is warmer) and winds (white lines) at the 250-millibar pressure level (the altitude at which the pressure is 250 millibars), showing the deeply wavy path of the polar jet stream across the United States on February 15, 2021. Screen capture from Earth.Nullschool, based on NOAA Global Forecast System data.

The polar vortex and the February 2021 cold extreme in the south-central United States

According to Butler, it’s reasonable to suppose that the polar vortex played a role in the extreme winter weather outbreak that struck the Southern Plains in late February. There is plenty of research linking disruptions of the stratospheric polar vortex to extreme cold air outbreaks in the mid-latitudes of the United States or Eurasia a few weeks later.

“We did have a sudden stratospheric warming in January,” explained Butler. “The polar vortex weakened. It got stretched out of shape and slid southward off the pole. Most of the time when this happens—and it happens on average about every other year in the Arctic—some part of the mid-latitudes will ultimately experience a cold air outbreak. The disruption of the vortex encouraged the polar jet stream to become wavier for several weeks, and in combination with other weather patterns, created favorable conditions for a severe cold air outbreak in the central U.S.”

Near-surface air temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere from February 15–22, 2021, compared to the 1981-2010 average. The polar jet stream made a deep dive into the south-central United States, bringing extreme cold (dark blue) to the Southern Plains. Meanwhile, parts of the Arctic were much warmer than average (orange and red). NOAA Climate.gov image, based on NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis data from NOAA Physical Sciences Lab's daily composites tool.

On the other hand, she said, plenty of Arctic cold air outbreaks happen in a given winter without any help from the polar vortex. Not to mention, sometimes the polar vortex is disrupted and there are few, if any, impacts on the weather down at the surface. So blaming the event solely on the polar vortex would be a stretch. (For a perspective on the possible role played Pacific ocean temperature patterns in a similar event that occurred in winter of 2013/14 and might be at play during this event, check out Dennis Hartmann’s ENSO blog post and his updated comments.)

(Video) What is the Polar Vortex

The polar vortex and global warming

Among the questions readers have been asking us is whether global warming is affecting the polar vortex in a way that would—paradoxically—make severe winter weather outbreaks in the mid-latitudes more likely. According to Butler, the idea isn’t as counter-intuitive as it seems at first glance.

“For example, disruptions of the polar vortex occur when the vortex is bumped from below by large-scale atmospheric waves flowing around the troposphere,” said Butler. “The waves are always there, but anything that changes their strength or location—including changes in surface temperature and pressure that result from sea ice loss—can potentially influence the polar vortex. So the idea would be that even though you have an overall warming trend, you might see an increase in the severity of individual winter weather events in some locations.”

Among the possibilities is that the polar vortex’s “preferred” location may be sensitive to regional variations in sea ice cover. For example, one study linked lower-than-average February sea ice extent in the eastern Arctic’s Barents and Kara Seas to a shift in the polar vortex toward Eurasia between the 1980s and the 2000s. The vortex shift was accompanied by colder-than-average winters across Siberia and the mid-latitudes of central Eurasia.

No clear trend, but limited data

But while the hypothesis is plausible, Butler said, “I don’t think there is any convincing evidence of a long-term trend in the polar vortex. What we see in the record is this very interesting period in the 1990s, when there were no sudden stratospheric warming events observed in the Arctic. In other words, the vortex was strong and stable. But then they started back up again in the late 1990s, and over the next decade there was one almost every year. So there was a window of time in the early 2010s where it seemed like there might be a trend toward weaker, more disrupted or shifted states of the Arctic polar vortex. But it hasn’t continued, and more and more, it’s looking like what seemed to be the beginning of a trend was just natural variability, or maybe just a rebound from the quiet of the 1990s.”

The disruption of the Arctic polar vortex in January 2021. Globes show show 10-millibar geopotential heights—an indicator of air pressure—for (left) December 26, 2020 as the polar vortex began to weaken, (middle) on January 5, 2021 when the stratospheric winds reversed sign, and (right) on January 15, 2021 during the sudden stratospheric warming event. Images by Laura Ciasto, NOAA CPC.

“It’s tough, though,” Butler continues, “because we don’t have a very long record of observations of the stratosphere. We’ve only been observing it directly since the 1950s. That’s not very long to understand what kind of natural variability the polar vortex might be capable of. One researcher did a historical reconstruction by correlating the overlapping portions of the North Atlantic Oscillation index—which goes back much farther—and the polar vortex record, and then extrapolating the polar vortex record farther back in time using the NAO index. It showed no long-term trend, and no big differences in recent decades compared to previous decades.”

Still, she said, it’s possible there have been changes to the vortex like location that aren't as well understood and could have consequences for surface impacts.

Models stubbornly split

The uncertainty due to a relatively short history of observations isn’t the only reason experts can’t dismiss the possibility that something could be up with polar vortex. Some climate model experiments do predict that continued warming will lead to a weakening of the polar vortex. “It’s true that when you run some high-resolution climate models, with a realistic stratosphere, and a realistic sea ice layer, and you reduce sea ice cover, these models predict that the polar vortex gets weaker,” Butler said. And some studies combining models and observations have shown a connection between low sea ice extent in the Barents and Kara Seas of the eastern Arctic, sudden stratospheric warming events, and cold winters in North America.

(Video) Polar Vortex | Arctic Cold Weather | Explained

At the same time, other model simulations predict that warming and sea ice loss will lead to a stronger polar vortex. Part of the reason for the disagreement is that the impact of Arctic surface warming and sea ice loss on the atmospheric waves that can disrupt the polar vortex is very sensitive to exactly where and when the sea ice loss occurs, and that hasn’t been consistent across model simulations.

“So, sometimes the sea ice losses are constructive: they reinforce and amplify the waves’ default or mean state,” explains Butler. “But other times, depending on exactly where and when the sea ice loss and warming occur in the models, they may interfere with existing atmospheric waves destructively, canceling them out.”

The sensitivity to the timing and location of sea ice loss is only part of the complexity, however. There also appears to be a tug-of-war between climate change processes that could strengthen the Arctic polar vortex and processes that could weaken it. Touching on this topic in a recent post for Climate.gov’s ENSO blog, Butler wrote:

For example, the tropical upper troposphere is predicted to become warmer, which will likely enhance the equator-to-pole temperature gradient across the tropopause (the atmospheric layer that separates the troposphere from the stratosphere), which would speed up the polar vortex in both hemispheres. However, enhanced warming of the Arctic surface relative to the middle latitudes reduces the surface temperature gradient and may act on the Northern Hemisphere polar vortex in the opposite direction.

Other climate factors being equal, a weaker vortex, with more frequent disruptions, could slow the rate of winter warming in the mid-latitudes while accelerating it in the Arctic. A stronger polar vortex, with few disruptions might be expected to slow Arctic warming at the expense of more rapid winter warming in the mid-latitudes.

“Some people have pushed the models as hard as they can, looking at the most extreme warming scenarios over the longest time horizons to see if a consistent signal would emerge from the simulations,” Butler said. “But the models remain split.”

“Personally,” said Butler, “I think that the effect of global warming [on the polar vortex] is currently small compared to the noise of natural variability, and in the future, any influence on winter weather would be small compared to the overall warming influence of greenhouse gases.”

Arctic links to mid-latitude winter weather

To Arctic climate expert Jim Overland, those two points are familiar arguments against the broader hypothesis that rapid Arctic warming could be affecting mid-latitude winter weather in various ways. He doesn’t even disagree with them. In a recent paper, Overland and several co-authors argued that if Arctic warming is affecting extreme weather events in the mid-latitudes it’s through intermittent connections that amplify an extreme event only when the background atmospheric conditions are already favorable.

(Video) Polar Vortex Formation and Ozone Depletion | Climatology | Dr. Krishnanand

As an example, he points to a study that described how an atmospheric river event combined with historically low November sea ice extent in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in 2017 to intensify a ridge of high pressure over the Pacific Arctic. Both up and downstream of the amplified ridge, the polar jet stream developed deep troughs, which allowed cold polar air to spill south into both East Asia and North America in early winter.

“So the lack of sea ice alone doesn’t cause the events,” said Overland, “but once the background conditions are set up, the heat flux from the ice-free ocean to the atmosphere along with warm air flowing in from lower latitudes can help reinforce the jet stream high pressure areas. Maybe make a downstream cold event last longer than it otherwise would have, be a little more extreme, or cover a little bit larger area.”

If they do exist, these sorts of intermittent influences of amplified Arctic warming on extreme winter weather in the mid-latitudes are going to be hard to pin down. In fall and early winter, it could be delayed freeze up of sea ice that is most influential, while in later winter, it could be the polar vortex. Or the influence might amplify cold extremes in one location and warm extremes in another, which over the whole mid-latitudes would cancel each other out.

“Every way people have tried to look at this question has produced some evidence for a connection and some evidence against a connection,” Overland said. One research team will conclude that Arctic sea ice loss is disrupting the atmospheric circulation in ways that lead to severe winters in the mid-latitudes. Another team will say that the unusual atmospheric circulation patterns come first, and drive both the warm Arctic and the cold winters over the mid-latitude continents. In Overland’s opinion, there is still not enough evidence either way to rule the hypothesis in or out.

Overall, winters will be warmer in a world with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases. Projected changes in January average temperatures across the United States by the 2090s if the world follows a high greenhouse gas emission path (right) compared to 1981-2010 (left). Images from Climate.gov Data Snapshots collection.

Still, by most of the metrics experts use to describe winter climate, Overland agrees the big picture is clear: on average, winters are warmer and cold extremes are less likely than they were a century ago. That trend is likely to continue with rising greenhouse gases and more global warming. If these intermittent influences of the Arctic on the mid-latitudes won’t fundamentally change the overall trajectory of winter climate with global warming, then why is the subject still such a hot research area?

“For NOAA, the reason this question is important is the sub-seasonal forecast scale,” he said, referring to forecast horizons of a few weeks to a month or so out. Even if the connection between the Arctic and mid-latitude extreme weather is only intermittent, failure to understand when such connections may occur will rob us of an opportunity to extend the lead time forecasters could give for extreme events like the recent Texas winter storm. The linkages between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes “may not change the seasonal picture,” said Overland, “but the details of what influences individual extreme events still matter.”

FAQs

Understanding the Arctic polar vortex? ›

The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure

area of low pressure
A low-pressure area is a region where the atmospheric pressure at sea level is below that of surrounding locations. Low-pressure systems form under areas of wind divergence that occur in the upper levels of the troposphere. The formation process of a low-pressure area is known as cyclogenesis.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Pressure_system
and cold air surrounding both of the Earth's poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term "vortex" refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles.

What is causing the polar vortex? ›

A low pressure system creates winds and cyclones, and things such as the polar vortex. A high pressure system pushes air away into lower pressure areas for balance. When the polar vortex destabilizes, it can push polar air out and away.

How does the polar vortex affect us? ›

Often when the polar vortex is strong, temperatures are mild in the mid-latitudes across the Eastern US and Northern Eurasia; and when the vortex is weak, temperatures tend to be cold across the Eastern US and northern Europe and Asia.

Does polar vortex happen every year? ›

This interaction happens every few years and has actually brought colder winters to Europe and the United States in the past. Before explaining what is coming for the Polar Vortex and our Winter weather, we will quickly learn what exactly is the Polar Vortex.

How cold does it get during polar vortex? ›

The winds of winter

They blow from west to east with sustained speeds easily exceeding 100 mph (160 kph). In the darkness of the winter polar night, temperatures within the polar vortex can easily get lower than minus 110 F (minus 79 C).

Is a polar vortex coming in 2022? ›

THE FINAL BREAKDOWN OF THE INTENSE POLAR VORTEX OF 2022

This level is placed at around 30 km altitude. The Polar Vortex during February and even into early March 2022 was very intense and cold, but then a rapid breakdown has occurred through mid-March as we discussed in one of our recent articles.

How do you survive a polar vortex? ›

The Polar Vortex Home Survival Guide
  1. Wrap windows and use door stoppers. ...
  2. Wrap pipes and water heaters. ...
  3. Freshen up the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. ...
  4. Store a winter survival kit in the trunk of your car. ...
  5. Keep your drive and walkways clear. ...
  6. Clear the chimney. ...
  7. Keep the gas meter clean and dry.
Jan 31, 2019

Why is this winter so cold 2022? ›

Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures are running much colder than average. Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature departure for March 2022. The La Niña version of ENSO favors a persistent cold northwest jet stream flow across North America.

What happens if the polar vortex collapse? ›

A Polar Vortex collapse event is starting in the stratosphere, with the Polar Vortex splitting apart and breaking down. This event will push the Polar Vortex beyond the point of recovery, terminating it until the next cold season. The collapse event will translate into the weather patterns in the coming weeks.

What do you do in a polar vortex? ›

In order to prepare, check out our tips below for taking on this upcoming polar vortex.
  • Dress Appropriately For Cold Weather. ...
  • Stock Your Vehicle. ...
  • Prepare For Electrical Outage. ...
  • Keep Outdoor Animals Safe. ...
  • Watch For Frozen Pipes. ...
  • Protect Your Home From The Outdoor Elements. ...
  • Test Your Smoke & CO Detectors.

What disrupts the polar vortex? ›

The polar vortex and global warming

“For example, disruptions of the polar vortex occur when the vortex is bumped from below by large-scale atmospheric waves flowing around the troposphere,” said Butler.

When was the last polar vortex in the US? ›

In late January 2019, a severe cold wave caused by a weakened jet stream around the Arctic polar vortex hit the Midwestern United States and Eastern Canada, killing at least 22 people.

How long will the polar vortex last? ›

Those individual vortices can persist for more than a month. Volcanic eruptions in the tropics can lead to a stronger polar vortex during winter for as long as two years afterwards. The strength and position of the polar vortex shapes the flow pattern in a broad area about it.

Why was winter 2021 so cold? ›

Background. As with most cold waves, the origins of the cold wave occurred when the jet stream migrated southward in early February 2021, allowing bitterly cold air from the polar vortex to spill south into the Upper Midwest and Great Plains.

Why is Seattle always cold? ›

Hot temperature extremes are enhanced by dry, compressed wind from the west slopes of the Cascades, while cold temperatures are generated mainly from the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. Records are taken from the Seattle City area from 1894 to 1944 and at Sea-Tac Airport from 1945.

Why is Wisconsin so cold? ›

"There is an area of low pressure over southern Canada that is fairly large and unrelenting, and it's not allowing any warmer air to even sniff at pushing into the Upper Midwest," Kavinsky said. The temperatures are made even colder by all the snow on the ground in Wisconsin.

Why is so cold in Chicago? ›

Although the city is located at a middle latitude, in winter it is cold because the North American land mass cools down a lot, and polar air outbreaks are frequent. Given the distance from the sea and the exposure to different types of air masses, temperature changes are frequent.

Will there be a Polar Vortex in 2020? ›

The Polar Vortex now collapsing, is set to release the Arctic Hounds for the United States and Europe, as we head for the second half of Winter 2020/2021. A Polar Vortex collapse sequence has begun in late December 2020, with a major Sudden Stratospheric Warming event on January 5th, 2021.

Is 2022 an La Niña year? ›

The current La Niña started around September 2020 and has been mild-to-moderate most of the time since then. As of April 2022, it intensified, leading to a cold snap over the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean not seen at that time of year since 1950.

Is 2022 going to be a hot summer? ›

Hot, Hot, Hot

Summer (Summer Solstice) officially starts on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at 5:14 a.m. ET. The transition from spring to summer will be stormy in many areas of the United States, especially along the East Coast and Great Lakes regions, where we are predicting some big thunderstorms.

How cold is it in space? ›

In fact, it doesn't actually have a temperature at all. Temperature is a measurement of the speed at which particles are moving, and heat is how much energy the particles of an object have. So in a truly empty region space, there would be no particles and radiation, meaning there's also no temperature.

What month does the polar vortex collapse? ›

To understand the impact of this on the weather, we will first learn in a simple way what the polar vortex is , and why it is so important, and then we will analyze the latest developments and detail the climate changes related to the collapse of the polar vortex during the month of April and the summer season of 2022.

What are the chances of another polar vortex? ›

Discussion: Inevitable is the likelihood of the feared polar vortex pattern in January 2022. Why? Simply stated, there is precedent for persistent high-amplitude high-pressure ridge areas forming over large regions of much warmer than normal SSTA during the past 10 years in the winter season.

Will there be another polar vortex? ›

A warming event begins for the Polar Vortex in the stratosphere, powered by the strong cross-polar ridging, as we head into the 2022 Spring season. The Polar Vortex is facing a stratospheric warming event, which will be strong enough to cause a temporary split of its outer core.

How does Texas prepare for cold weather? ›

Prepare days before a freeze
  1. Wrap outdoor and indoor pipes in unheated areas (like a clothes washer in your garage).
  2. Drain indoor house fire sprinklers.
  3. Remove water hoses and wrap outdoor pipes.
  4. Drain and turn off your lawn sprinkler system.
  5. Turn off the water to your clothes washer if it's in an unheated garage.
Feb 2, 2022

How do you prepare for an arctic blast? ›

At night, cover windows with extra blankets or sheets. Be a good neighbor. Check with elderly relatives and friends who may need assistance to make sure they're safe. To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.

Is polar vortex caused by global warming? ›

A new study shows that increases in extreme winter weather in parts of the US are linked to accelerated warming of the Arctic. The scientists found that heating in the region ultimately disturbed the circular pattern of winds known as the polar vortex.

How cold is the North Pole right now? ›

Antarctica is dry—and high. Under the ice and snow is land, not ocean. And it's got mountains. The average elevation of Antarctica is about 7,500 feet (2.3 km).
...
Really cold, or really, really cold?
Time of yearAverage (mean) temperature
North PoleSouth Pole
Summer32° F (0° C)−18° F (−28.2° C)
1 more row
May 31, 2022

What is the coldest city in America? ›

Research from website 24/7 Wall St. found that Fairbanks, Alaska, is the coldest city in the U.S. with the minimum average temperature in the coldest month a bone-chilling -16.9° F. The lowest temperature ever recorded there is -66° F.

What cold temperature can humans survive? ›

Below 70 F (21 C), you are said to have profound hypothermia and death can occur, Sawka said.

What is the warmest place on Earth? ›

Death Valley holds the record for the highest air temperature on the planet: On 10 July 1913, temperatures at the aptly named Furnace Creek area in the California desert reached a blistering 56.7°C (134.1°F).

How often do we have polar vortex? ›

This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States. The one that occurred January 2014 is similar to many other cold outbreaks that have occurred in the past, including several notable colder outbreaks in 1977, 1982, 1985 and 1989.

What caused the polar vortex 2021? ›

The cold was caused by a southern migration of the polar vortex, likely caused by a sudden stratospheric warming event that occurred the prior month. Temperatures fell as much as 25–50 °F (14-28 °C) below average as far south as the Gulf Coast.

Why is the polar vortex moving south? ›

However, the Arctic is warming faster than other areas of the planet, which makes the difference in temperature less distinct. This causes the polar jet stream to meander north and south instead of making a beeline around the planet.

What is causing the change in the jet stream? ›

The earth's rotation is responsible for the jet stream as well. The motion of the air is not directly north and south but is affected by the momentum the air has as it moves away from the equator. The reason has to do with momentum and how fast a location on or above the Earth moves relative to the Earth's axis.

When was the last polar vortex? ›

In late January 2019, a severe cold wave caused by a weakened jet stream around the Arctic polar vortex hit the Midwestern United States and Eastern Canada, killing at least 22 people.

Why is this winter so cold 2022? ›

Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures are running much colder than average. Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature departure for March 2022. The La Niña version of ENSO favors a persistent cold northwest jet stream flow across North America.

What happens if the polar vortex collapse? ›

A Polar Vortex collapse event is starting in the stratosphere, with the Polar Vortex splitting apart and breaking down. This event will push the Polar Vortex beyond the point of recovery, terminating it until the next cold season. The collapse event will translate into the weather patterns in the coming weeks.

What disrupts the polar vortex? ›

The polar vortex and global warming

“For example, disruptions of the polar vortex occur when the vortex is bumped from below by large-scale atmospheric waves flowing around the troposphere,” said Butler.

Can the polar vortex cause an ice age? ›

The Polar Vortex South Shift is Such a Powerful Climatic Event to Trigger an Ice Age to Begin, and Already Happened Some Tens of Thousands of Years Ago.

How long will the polar vortex last? ›

Those individual vortices can persist for more than a month. Volcanic eruptions in the tropics can lead to a stronger polar vortex during winter for as long as two years afterwards. The strength and position of the polar vortex shapes the flow pattern in a broad area about it.

In late February, as the Southern Plains and Gulf Coast suffered through an unusually strong blast of wintry weather, weather talk turned to the polar vortex and the possibility that the extreme cold was yet another example of weather-gone-wild due to global warming.. In this article, we’re talking to two NOAA experts about the devastating extreme cold event, the polar vortex, and the potential link to global warming.. When the Arctic polar vortex is especially strong and stable (left globe), it encourages the polar jet stream, down in the troposphere, to shift northward.. When the vortex weakens, shifts, or splits (right globe), the polar jet stream often becomes extremely wavy, allowing warm air to flood into the Arctic and polar air to sink down into the mid-latitudes.. According to NOAA stratosphere expert Amy Butler, people often confuse the polar vortex with the polar jet stream , but the two are in completely separate layers of the atmosphere.. It’s the polar jet stream that plays such a big role in our day-to-day winter weather in the mid-latitudes, not the polar vortex.. There is plenty of research linking disruptions of the stratospheric polar vortex to extreme cold air outbreaks in the mid-latitudes of the United States or Eurasia a few weeks later.. Among the questions readers have been asking us is whether global warming is affecting the polar vortex in a way that would—paradoxically—make severe winter weather outbreaks in the mid-latitudes more likely.. Globes show show 10-millibar geopotential heights—an indicator of air pressure—for (left) December 26, 2020 as the polar vortex began to weaken, (middle) on January 5, 2021 when the stratospheric winds reversed sign, and (right) on January 15, 2021 during the sudden stratospheric warming event.. One researcher did a historical reconstruction by correlating the overlapping portions of the North Atlantic Oscillation index—which goes back much farther—and the polar vortex record, and then extrapolating the polar vortex record farther back in time using the NAO index.. “It’s true that when you run some high-resolution climate models, with a realistic stratosphere, and a realistic sea ice layer, and you reduce sea ice cover, these models predict that the polar vortex gets weaker,” Butler said.. And some studies combining models and observations have shown a connection between low sea ice extent in the Barents and Kara Seas of the eastern Arctic, sudden stratospheric warming events, and cold winters in North America.. Part of the reason for the disagreement is that the impact of Arctic surface warming and sea ice loss on the atmospheric waves that can disrupt the polar vortex is very sensitive to exactly where and when the sea ice loss occurs, and that hasn’t been consistent across model simulations.. A stronger polar vortex, with few disruptions might be expected to slow Arctic warming at the expense of more rapid winter warming in the mid-latitudes.. “Personally,” said Butler, “I think that the effect of global warming [on the polar vortex] is currently small compared to the noise of natural variability , and in the future, any influence on winter weather would be small compared to the overall warming influence of greenhouse gases.”

When those winds decrease significantly, it can allow the vortex to become distorted, and the result is a jet stream that plunges deep into southern latitudes, bringing the cold, dense Arctic air spilling down with it.. This oscillation -- namely the negative phase where the polar winds are weaker -- tends to lead to major cold air outbreaks in one or more regions of the planet.. The polar vortex can lead to major cold air outbreaks in any portion of the Northern Hemisphere -- North America, Europe and Asia.. A cold air outbreak caused by the polar vortex is much more widespread and lasts longer than a single storm.. Most notable was the polar vortex in the winter of 2014 when cold arctic air spilled out across North America.

What Is The Polar Vortex?. – Weather “Whys” For Kids If you live in a part of the world that gets cold in the winter, you’ve likely heard this phrase a lot recently: POLAR VORTEX .. That’s when the coldest arctic air can also head south.. Scientists have been discussing this weather event for more than 160 years!. #2: The Polar Vortex is REALLY COLD: FACT .. Some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in the US have happened during these events.. #5: Climate Change is making the Polar Vortex happen MORE OFTEN: MAYBE .. We simply don’t know for sure, but the notion that a weaker Polar Jet Stream would allow more arctic outbreaks to surge south is a plausible explanation that deserves more research.

The Polar Front J et Stream surrounding the polar vortex operates at a lower altitude of around 10 kilometers (7 miles) , but its constant high-speed rotation is sufficient to keep the polar vortex in place and stable.. Simply put, a strong polar vortex is a safe polar vortex.. Usually, a strong polar vortex helps the circulating jet streams to stay strong and keeps them in shape.. The polar jet stream also forms the boundary between the cold polar vortex air and the warmer subtropical air.. With air temperatures within the polar vortex reaching -80° Celsius (-130° Fahrenheit) in the mid-upper atmosphere, the maintenance of a strong boundary between the Arctic and subtropical air is essential.. There are a variety of ways in which the vortex can weaken (which we will discuss later in the article) , but it is usually the presence of warmer temperatures that disrupts the strong low-pressure system that holds the polar vortex together.. The weakened low-pressure system and a compromised jet stream can even cause a polar vortex to split, where the primary vortex is broken down into smaller vortices, and each piece can move in different directions.. When a vortex weakens, the polar jet stream weakens and loses its shape, causing the wavy border that can wander far south and affect areas that would normally not be exposed to this phenomenon at all.. Simply put, a weak polar vortex is an unstable and dangerous polar vortex.. Now that you know why a polar vortex can become so dangerous and that temperature plays a major role in the weakening of the polar vortex, we need to try and establish what the reason for these disturbances in temperature is.. This phenomenon causes the warmer air over the Arctic to move in from the sides of the polar vortex and disrupt the cold air.. As the polar vortex becomes more severely disrupted, Arctic Amplification can cause the vortex to split into multiple vortices, which leads to a Polar Outbreak.. Once the polar jet stream gets disrupted to the point where it loses its shape and takes on a wavy form, regions not used to the extreme cold now get exposed to Arctic temperatures with potentially fatal consequences.. Chicago Experiencing The Extreme Cold Temperatures Associated With A Polar Vortex

When the polar low pressure system is strong, it keeps the jet stream traveling around Earth in a very circular path and keeps Arctic air bundled up close to the Pole.But when that system is weakened, parts of the vortex break off and become elongated, resulting in cold air shifting southward.. "When the stratospheric polar vortex is strong, the jet stream tends to move further north, which keeps the cold air in the Arctic and allows relatively milder conditions across much of the United States and Eurasia," Furtado said.. A common reason the polar vortex leaves its usual location is due to a sudden shift of hotter air, known as a sudden stratospheric warming, or SSW.. "When the polar vortex is weak, or an SSW event occurs, then the jet stream will tend to weakened, move further south, and become 'wavier,'" Furtado said.. "The effect of these changes is for warmer than normal air to move into the Arctic, colder weather to enter North America and Europe/Asia, and more extreme weather and storms overall in the middle latitudes (e.g., snowstorms).". Because the polar vortex is disconnected physically from where most weather occurs, it often has more of an indirect impact on daily weather.. Cold air is more dense, so it sinks, allowing the hot air from the SSW to remain in the stratosphere and the colder air to sink down into the lower levels near the surface.. "However, in the troposphere, the effects of the SSW event (e.g., a further south jet stream, cold and stormy weather) can last for up to 8 weeks.. Furtado says we had cold and stormy weather for much of the central and eastern regions of North America following the 2018 event, but minimal effects were felt in North America following the 2019 event.. The polar vortex is simply a low pressure system that swirls cold air around the polar regions of the globe.. The polar vortex is located in the stratosphere, about 18 miles above Earth's surface, which is well above the jet stream, where planes fly, and where most weather occurs.

Videos

1. Understanding Climate Change: Polar Vortex Weakening | Jesse Zhang | TEDxMileHigh
(TEDx Talks)
2. What is Polar Vortex? | How is it formed? | Theory, Shifting & full details.
(Samajho Learning)
3. Understanding how global warming affects the polar vortex
(KING 5)
4. The polar vortex, explained
(USA TODAY)
5. Polar Vortex क्या है ? Extreme Cold in USA Will India be Impacted? Current Affairs 2019
(StudyIQ IAS)
6. What Does the Polar Vortex Have to do with Climate Change? I NOVA I PBS
(NOVA PBS Official)

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