What is a polar vortex? is it dangerous?

(last updated October 10, 2022)

Inside the article.

  • Climate change evidence: polar vortex.
  • definition of the polar vortex.
  • cause of polar vortex.
  • does it matter to us?

Polar Vortex: Backgrounds

Talking about the terminology Polar vortex, It just dated back to 5 or 6 years. The US media first used this in 2014. Before it was generally known as a cold snap or cooling snap. In this winter season of the year, some parts of the US and Canada are cooler than Antarctica and even Mars. In late January 2019, the extremely cold climate cooled much of the United States compared to the heat of President Donald Trump’s government shutdown.  Furthermore, unusual patterns and the record-low temperature hit the United States and Canada from late January 2019 to late February. The unusual pattern of extremely cold temperatures has been blamed on a polar vortex.

polar vortex and climate change
Pic by Laxu Pandey
The polar vortex is the reason for the long winter in US and Canada.

The US National Weather Service warns Americans to stay warm, avoid working/ walking outside or use necessary precautions because due to the polar vortex. In the Midwest region of the United States, the chilliness of air was recorded just above -45°C (-49°F), which is colder than the frozen tundra and Antarctica. Time Magazine USA reported that in the last week of January 2019, At least 21 people died due to extreme cold weather and related weather events in the United States. The extreme cold condition is caused by the extreme cold snap referred to as the polar vortex. The concept of layering in the cold area is old-school fashion. The more you wear layers of sweaters, jerseys, and jackets more likely you stay warm and easy way to avoid extreme cold events like the polar vortex.

The factor which is the main reason for causing polar vortex is the Jet Streams! They are the fast-moving air currents in the atmosphere and are located near the tropopause and are the westerly winds. They have irregular shapes. They may begin, end, or be divided into two or more parts. And, they may flow in one direction or can have more directions that may include the opposite direction of the Jet Remainder.

The polar vortex is quite stable on the south pole because of the presence of fewer land masses and becomes stronger in winter and quite stable in summer. Some scientists suggest that this is strengthened due to the leak of ice into the sea or the mass melting of ice. This leads to severe winter outbreaks, snowstorms, and well-known cold snaps! The mainly favored areas are North America and Europe.

polar vortex and climate change
Polar Vortex definition

In early 2014 the polar vortex was weakened, and a large high-pressure system was developed on Greenland. The high-pressure system formed over Greenland blocked the escape of all that cold air in the jet streams and that caused the breakdown of the polar vortex and the move southward. Places as far as Tampa, Florida experienced the wrath of this wandering polar vortex. Most of the Canada and parts of the Midwestern United States had temperatures colder than Alaska at the height of this cold snap.

Introduction to the polar vortex

As the temperature of Canada and the US intensifies to the coolest after decades. Many of us are concerned about this kind of weather phenomenon. Many scientists are agreed that this particular weather system is closely linked to the polar vortex. We obviously seem quite unknown of this term, it is the new term in climatology. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describe a polar vortex as incredible layers of low-pressure air which are extremely cold covering a huge area of nearby the Earth’s North and South poles. The terminology vortex is a relatively new word in science, it is used to describe the counter-clockwise movement of air that helps keep the colder air close to the poles (left globe). Frequently throughout cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere, the polar vortex will become less steady and increase its size, sending frenzy cold Arctic air to the south over the United States with the jet stream (right globe).

Polar Vortex definition
polar vortex and climate change

A polar vortex is an upper-level low-pressure area lying near the Earth’s poles. There are two polar vortices in the earth’s atmosphere, overlaying the north and south poles. Each polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale low-pressure zone less than 620 miles in diameter, that rotates counter-clockwise at the north pole and clockwise on the south pole. This means they rotate eastward around the poles.

Particularly, the polar vortex is more active in the southern region. A polar vortex can reproduce several other vortices, which can lead to extreme weather phenomena like a snowstorm.

Recent Reasons for Polar Vortex:

Air is a combination of gases. In earth, atmosphere gases are folded on top of each other according to their density and properties. I am confident that I can not feel air also, I am positive that you don’t feel gases. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is super heavy with all gas particles and they are always creating pressure on the air. We don’t feel air pressure in a noticeable ratio because our body is used to it. However, air pressure in the earth’s atmosphere varies in different regions. A region of the atmosphere where air pressure is low than the surrounding is called a low-pressure system. On the other hand, a high-pressure region has high pressure than its surroundings. The low-pressure systems pull air into them from high-pressure systems to balance pressure and it’s a completely natural process. However sometimes low-pressure expands and travels a bit too far from the north pole to a southward area of the United States and Canada.

polar vortex and extreme weather. Polar Vortex definition
climate change, and extreme weather.

Yet, we believe this is a quite natural weather process. We might be interested in knowing what are the causes that are leading to this recent polar vortex. Due to cold snaps, daily life has become extremely hard to survive and many people are facing severe health issues. Some scientists have suggested that these extremities are closely linked to human-induced climate change. On the other hand, other scientists believe that it is not necessarily linked to climate change because the polar vortex is always hanging out of the north. It takes unusual conditions for it to weaken or for it to migrate far south. And other things can cause cold arctic air to travel.

Does the polar vortex has linked with climate change?

Jet stream (fast-moving air currents in the atmosphere), flows over North America and Europe in a definite pattern, Recent studies found rough evidence of slowing of jet stream flow and their path is becoming curvier as the average temperature of the planet increases. Jet streams interact with a polar vortex to bring cold air and upset temperatures in the lower part of South America. But you might wonder if global warming is real, everywhere on planet earth should be warmer. Well, Donald Trump thinks that way, so do you or don’t? I am leaving this to you, decide for yourself. A recent research paper published in Nature.com insists that climate change might be the contributing factor to the long winter pattern in the east part of North America in recent times.

The study warns that the polar vortex shift might have a vital role in the melting of Arctic Sea Ice during summer. However, it is too bold to claim that the polar vortex is due to climate change. But there should be no arguments that the melting of ice in the Arctic can influence the weather patterns around the world. The reason might be quite unknown that activates the polar vortex, recent human activities have led to numerous climatological and natural transformations. Global warming, as well as cooling, are happening at the same time on earth. North American chilly weather and Extreme heat in Australia are some examples of it.

polar vortex and climate change
variations of the jet stream

The eco-friendly lifestyle cannot be denied in maintaining the earth’s natural resources and preventing alterations on climatic factors. This could be a generous act to prevent future possible extremities. National and international levels of an act are necessary to prevent casualties. There is no plan B without earth for us. Sustainable resources use can lead us to make this planet livable for us and for our upcoming generations. Otherwise, we may not be able to predict what our tomorrow looks like.

We must act now because we are running out of time! #ActNow 😊😊


Laxman Pandey
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