Jan 23, 2019

Here Are Four Weather Concepts That Confuse People - Including The Polar Vortex

Dr. Marshall Shepherd
The science of the polar vortex. Image: NOAA
The science of the polar vortex. Image: NOAA

I saw an article this morning that said something to the effect that the "Polar Vortex" was coming to the United States to blah, blah, blah.  This characterization of the Polar Vortex as this "storm-like thing" that comes to get us periodically is somewhat mischaracterized. I promise you it is not like the boogeyman hiding under our bed. I realized that it was probably time to revisit four things about weather that still confuse the public. I could have certainly included more, but these are the ones that I notice in my personal spaces and on social media.

Polar Vortex. Since the there was a recent split in the Polar Vortex, I will start with it. University of Miami research meteorologist Brian McNoldy offers a nice explanation in his blog:

The polar vortex (also sometimes called the circumpolar vortex) is a large, persistent, upper-atmospheric, cyclonic circulation that forms and exists over the winter pole...The polar vortex is perfectly normal, and has been known about for at least 70 years. It is not a winter storm, or a storm of any kind. It's just a natural part of Earth's circulation 10 to 30 miles up in the atmosphere.

There is one at both poles, and other planets have them too. McNoldy goes on to point out that recently the Polar Vortex recently split allowing very cold Arctic air to intrude into the eastern half of the continental United States.