Understanding Polar Vortex Science:
The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air that sits over the Earth’s poles. It is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the winter and is caused by the difference in temperature between the poles and the equator. The polar vortex is typically strongest during the winter months, when the temperature difference is at its greatest.It is made up of a series of circulating winds that can reach speeds of up to 220 miles per hour. These winds create a ring of cold air around the poles, which keeps the cold air trapped and isolated from the rest of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The polar vortex is strongest during the winter months, when the temperature difference between the poles and the equator is at its greatest. This is because the sun’s rays are at their weakest during the winter, which means that less heat is being absorbed by the Earth’s surface. As a result, the poles are much colder than the equator, and the polar vortex can maintain its strength.
The polar vortex is also related to El Nino, which is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino is caused by a warming of the surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which leads to changes in the wind patterns and ocean currents. These changes can affect the strength of the polar vortex and can cause the cold air to be pushed farther south than usual.
Impacts of Polar Vortex:
How is it Impacting Canada and US:
The polar vortex can have a significant impact on the weather in the United States and Canada. When the polar vortex is strong, cold air is pushed southward, which can lead to extremely cold temperatures and snowstorms in these countries. For example, in January 2014, a major outbreak of Arctic air swept across the United States, resulting in record low temperatures and widespread snowfall. Similarly, in February 2015, a large area of Canada was hit by a severe cold spell, with temperatures dropping to -40 degrees Celsius in some regions.
Image 2: Impact of Polar Vortex
Impacts on human life:
- Extreme cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, especially in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, young children, and homeless individuals.
- Cold temperatures can also cause power outages and damage to infrastructure, leading to disruptions in heating, transportation, and communication.
- The heavy snowfall and strong winds associated with polar vortex events can cause dangerous travel conditions, leading to road closures and flight cancellations.
Impacts on natural habitat:
- The cold temperatures can cause damage to crop and wildlife, particularly in areas that are not accustomed to such low temperatures.
- The heavy snowfall can also disrupt the migration patterns of some wildlife species, making it difficult for them to find food and shelter.
- Some studies have suggested that polar vortex events can have an impact on the distribution of some species and even extinction.
A study by Parmesan et al. (2000) found that many species of butterfly have shifted their ranges poleward in response to warming temperatures, which suggest that polar vortex events can also have an impact on the distribution of some species.
Another study by Parmesan (2006) found that the distributions of many species of plants and animals have shifted poleward and upward in elevation in response to warming temperatures, providing further evidence that polar vortex events can have an impact on natural habitats.
Polar Vortex and Climate Change:
The relationship between the polar vortex and climate change is an area of ongoing research. Some scientists have suggested that climate change may be affecting the polar vortex, while others have found no direct link.
One theory is that warming in the Arctic, which is happening at a faster rate than the rest of the globe, is causing the polar vortex to weaken. This can cause the cold air to spill out of the polar region and into areas further south, leading to more extreme cold weather events.
A study by Francis and Vavrus (2015) found that warming in the Arctic is causing the polar vortex to become less stable, which can lead to more extreme cold weather events in the mid-latitudes. The study also found that climate change is causing the jet stream, which helps to keep the polar vortex in place, to become wavier and slower. This can cause the cold air to be pushed farther south than usual.
However, other studies have found no direct link between climate change and the polar vortex. For example, a study by Cohen et al (2014) found that the frequency and intensity of extreme cold weather events in the United States have not increased in recent decades, despite an overall warming trend.
In conclusion, the polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air that sits over the Earth’s poles. It is caused by the difference in temperature between the poles and the equator and is strongest during the winter months. The polar vortex can have a significant impact on the weather in the United States and Canada and is related to El Nino.
While some studies have suggested that climate change may be affecting the polar vortex, the relationship is still an area of ongoing research. More research is needed to understand the full impact of climate change on the polar vortex and extreme cold weather events.
Also, the polar vortex can have significant impacts on both human life and natural habitats. Extreme cold temperatures and heavy snowfall can cause dangerous travel conditions, damage to infrastructure, and disruption to heating and communication. In natural habitats, it can cause damage to crop and wildlife, and disrupt migration patterns.
National Weather Service. (n.d.). What is the polar vortex? Retrieved from https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/polar_vortex
NASA. (n.d.). The polar vortex explained. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/spaceweather/polar-vortex.html
The Weather Channel. (2014, January 6). Cold outbreak: Record lows, snow, ice, wind chill. Retrieved from https://weather.com/news/news/cold-outbreak-record-lows-snow-ice-wind-chill
CBC News. (2015, February 17). Cold snap breaks records in Canada, US. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/cold-snap-breaks-records-in-canada-us-1.2964217
Francis, J. A., & Vavrus, S. J. (2015). Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophysical Research Letters, 42(24), 10774-10782.
Cohen, J., Walsh, J. E., & Walsh, E. (2014). Climate change and extreme cold weather events. Environmental Research Letters, 9(1), 011001.
Parmesan, C., Ryrholm, N., Stefanescu, C., Hill, J. K., Thomas, C. D., Descimon, H., et al. (2000). Poleward shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regional warming. Nature, 404, 709–709.
Parmesan, C. (2006). Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 37, 637–669.
Image retrieved from