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What is the Polar Vortex?

29 Nov 2017, 11:53 am

There is a lot of debate about the term ‘Polar Vortex’ and what exactly it entails.

While it is NOT a new term or concept, the use of it by broadcast meteorologists is relatively recent.

Bitter Cold in South Dakota

CHECK THIS OUT!Temperatures in South Dakota were so cold this weekend, hot water tossed in the air evaporates, condenses, and then refreezes into tiny ice droplets in a matter of moments.

Posted by WeatherNation on Monday, December 19, 2016


The Polar Vortex has always been a thing. And if we are getting technical, there are two of them.
One over the North Pole, and one over the South Pole.

Simply, the Polar Vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the Earth’s poles.
That definition comes directly from NOAA.

It’s actually high overhead. Thousands of feet, but can play a major role in the temperatures we see down at the surface.


2014 was the year of the Polar Vortex. Meteorologists used it almost incessantly as a way to describe the bitter cold that took over most of the U.S.
The over-use of the word, though accurate, put a bad taste in the mouths of many Americans.
Oddly enough, this has happened in the past. Notably 1977, 1982, 1985, and 1989 were all years of the Polar Vortex– the buzz about it just never caught on.

What was actually happening at the time was the Polar Vortex was expanding and moving. This brought the cold mass of air high overhead toward the United States. That movement was what was responsible for the dramatic cold across many eastern states.

Will it Return?

The term has already popped up this year and the dead of winter is not even upon us. But forecasting something like the Polar Vortex in the long-term isn’t as easy as it sounds.

What we do know about this winter is that we are in a La Nina pattern. This does mean more cold for some, but not necessarily a Polar Vortex-outbreak.

This is how a typical La Nina pattern typically affects the weather:

For WeatherNation — Meteorologist Jeremy LaGoo

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