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“Polar Vortex” Incites a Swirling Debate

Overnight Lows

You heard it all winter long: “polar vortex.” It sounds ominous and imposing and to some…it was. The air that was associated with “polar vortex” was mind-numbing cold — at times temperatures plummeted in to the -30s or below.

But, is the term “Polar Vortex” really being tossed around in the middle of July? Yeah…It is. But, don’t expect to break out your parkas and snow boots just yet. While it may get cool in parts of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes over the next couple of nights, it’ll be far from bone-chillingly cold.

Here’s the deal:

The polar vortex is a legitimate meteorological term, here’s how climate.gov describes it: “The polar vortex is a high altitude low-pressure system that hovers over the Arctic in winter. When the polar vortex is strong, it acts like a spinning bowl balanced on the top of the North Pole.”

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Photo Credit: NWS/NOAA

Sometimes, “lobes” or “spokes” break off from the main circulation and are ejected out. Those pieces of the polar vortex can blast south, into the Lower 48, bringing dangerously cold weather along for the ride. Although, considering it’s July the cooler air will be greatly moderated.

The fact that one of these “spokes” is dropping down in the middle of the summer is unusual, but not totally out of the ordinary. And I’m sure the people lucky enough to be getting a brief reprieve aren’t complaining.

So, from a scientific perspective, meteorologists and journalists using the term “polar vortex” are generally utilizing it in the correct context. But hyperbolic headlines and hype are being used an attention grabbing tactic to drive clicks and shares.

In the words of my former synoptic meteorology professor, Dr. Kevin Kloesel: “Stop it!”

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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