It is possible to chill out with the polar vortex

Just why is it so cold right now?

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WSDOT is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bitter cold weather in the midwest this week.

It seems almost every year the midwest is subjected to one or two weeks of absolute bone-chilling weather, leaving many to ask why? It’s all due to the polar vortex.

“Satellite Image Shows Entry of the Polar Vortex into the Northern U.S.” (NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

That term seems to get thrown around a lot this time of year, “vortex this” and “vortex that” but what is the polar vortex?

According to the National Weather Service, the polar vortex is “a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles.” What makes it a vortex is that the air moves in a counterclockwise direction keeping it concentrated on the poles and cooling it down.

When the vortex expands it sends that frigid air south along the jet stream and that is what we typically experience as horribly cold temperatures.

The National Weather Service also stresses that the polar vortex is not a new phenomenon, “The term “polar vortex” has only recently been popularized, bringing attention to a weather feature that has always been present.”

This brutal weather is not unique to the United States either. Back in January, Bloomberg reported that Beijing saw record low temperatures of -9 due to the polar vortex. However, that is nowhere near as low as the -18 degrees reported in parts of the Dakotas recently.