Polar Vortex this Winter? Not so fast….

Columbus (WCMH) – The internet is a wonderful thing.  It is an easy way for people to share thoughts, ideas, photos, or stories about the upcoming Polar Vortex.

I was not going to join that chorus, but then I realized, I just did.  Oh well!  I will explain why we shouldn’t be alarmed about this Winter right now.


First off, what is the Polar Vortex?
There are 2 actually, one near each the north pole and the south pole.   The Polar Vortex is a large area of low pressure that has a home near each pole.   Since it is an area of low pressure, it has a counter-clockwise spin, and therefore is termed as a “vortex”.


A few things to note:

  • The Polar Vortex is always there, but it does weaken during the Summer and gets stronger during the Winter.
  • The Polar Vortex CAN BE responsible for sending colder air south during the Winter as it expands
  • The Polar Vortex can impact areas across the globe in the winter, not just us in the Northern Hemisphere
  • Just because it is unusually cold in the Winter, it does not mean there is a Polar Vortex
  • Polar Vortex is not a new term, or a new type of weather.  The 2014 Polar Vortex was the first big hit during the internet era….possibly spreading the word more


Polar Vortex strength can determine our odds of getting impacted by it:

Think about a top spinning on a surface, the faster the top spins, the more likely it is to stay upright and in place.  As the top loses speed it begins to wobble before falling.

The Polar Vortex works in a similar way.  If the upper-level winds around the North Pole stay strong, the Vortex will tend to keep all of the coldest air stuck up to the north.

When the same upper-level winds start to weaken, we see a wobbling effect of the Vortex, and then the coldest air starts to get dislodged.  This can allow small amounts of the cold air to slide south and enhance the coldness of the Winter months for a few days.

Or in the case of 2014, we can see a good chunk of the Arctic air push south, bringing much cooler than normal air, followed by that massive push of Arctic Air.


Why are we talking about the possible Polar Vortex in early November?

Many of the stories that have been posted on the web reference back to an article published in this journal Nature (http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate3136.html).  The authors state that Polar Vortex has in fact weakened over the past 3 decades.   They also question if/how Arctic Climate Change has shifted the normal location of the Polar Vortex as well.   But again, this is something they have seen for the past 3 decades with the weakening.

So yes, a weakening Polar Vortex would mean a better chance of having it impact us further to the south, but this could occur in any given year.  And according to the research that is done here, it would seem likely that this would occur more and more in the future as the upper-level winds near the North Pole weakens.


Bottom line… don’t get too worried this far out about a Polar Vortex bringing a big cold chill in a couple months:

At this point, I feel like it is too far out to accurately predict how a large scale low is going to move in two months.  The likelihood is, we are going to see cold temperatures in January & February, and we are going to get snow in both months.

We will have to stay tuned to see if we just end up getting our seasonal visits from the colder air masses over Canada, or if we do see a true weakening of the upper-level winds to allow a displacement of the Low over the North Pole to make a visit down over us.

I think the most likely scenario is that we will end up having some displacement of the Polar Vortex at times this upcoming Winter, but it will only dislodge the colder air in Canada and send a couple of 3-5 day spokes of cold air down our way.

This will have short term impacts, but overall will only balance the temperatures back towards normal for the Winter months.


Here is a look at Climate Prediction Center’s (NOAA) 3 month forecast for temperatures this Winter:

Below is the December-February time period (with us having equal chances of cooler or warmer than normal temps):



Below is the January-March 2017 temperature outlook:



Below is the February- April 2017 temperature outlook:



To see my previous story about how much snowfall we can see here this Winter click here: http://nbc4i.com/2016/10/21/my-updated-snowfall-forecast-for-this-winter-2-months-out/

To see Ben Gelber’s previous recap on the historic 2014 Polar Vortex: http://nbc4i.com/2016/01/06/anniversary-of-the-polar-vortex/

If you have questions about this story, winter weather, or any other weather related stories, email me: dmazza@wcmh.com




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