It's cold, but don't blame the Polar Vortex - WNEM TV 5

It's cold, but don't blame the Polar Vortex

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Polar Vortex Diagram Polar Vortex Diagram
Systems that develop around the vortex can dive south. Systems that develop around the vortex can dive south.
Disturbances diving south drag polar air into the U.S. Disturbances diving south drag polar air into the U.S.

Cold snaps aren't inherently unusual in Michigan during November. Inching ever closer to Winter, it's the time of year when cold air gathering in the polar regions begins to advance southward.

While the cold itself isn’t a foreign concept this time of year, the magnitude of the cold on Friday morning was extreme. Low temperatures in mid-November should only be dipping into the low 30s. Instead, we were subjected to widespread readings in the teens and even the single-digits. On top of that, Friday morning’s lows set new records in Flint, Saginaw, and Houghton Lake.

As nasty and biting as this bout of cold has proven to be, don’t go blaming it on the Polar Vortex.

(Don't) Enter The Polar Vortex

The Polar Vortex became a popular scapegoat for repeated bouts of extreme cold that barreled across the United States during the winter of 2013-2014. Though it is a very real phenomenon, it is not the menace that it was blown up into.

The Polar Vortex is exactly what its name implies. It is a permanent, large-scale circulation in the upper levels of our atmosphere near Earth’s north and south poles. It weakens during the Summer months, and strengthens in Winter.

It does not exist at the surface, and is not a phenomenon that can you can visibly observe like a thunderstorm or tornado. It is not some kind of storm system that produces blinding snow and frigid conditions.

Instead, from time to time in a given Winter, upper level disturbances will develop in the periphery of the Polar Vortex’s circulation. These disturbances can become strong enough to dive southward across the continental United States, and will drag large swaths of cold, polar air with them. Usually, this comes in the form of a tremendous dip in the jet stream which stabilizes after a few days.

In particularly active winters, these disturbances and subsequent dips in the jet stream can occur more frequently, as was the case in early 2014. In all cases though, the Polar Vortex never actually moves away from the poles, and is not a threat to us here on the ground.

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