An Explainer on the Polar Vortex You're About to Experience

On December 7, the polar vortex had descended into the Plains states and reached Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. Those temperatures are low enough to kill someone or to cause frostbite to set in to somebody's skin after just 30 minutes of exposure.

While the Midwest braces itself for what Rice calls "life-threatening cold temperatures and fierce winds" and the rest of the country wonders what the polar vortex will bring, it's worth asking whether climate change will affect the vortex in the future.

A storm system will race along the dividing zone between milder air to the south and Arctic air to the north into the early weekend, spreading a messy mix of snow, ice and rain from Chicago to NY and Boston. The cold air is now moving east, bringing subzero temperatures to New England, while the mid-Atlantic will struggle to climb into the double digits.

The most intense cold will hit the big cities from Washington to Boston on Thursday and Friday. Further to the south, flooding rains will be possible across much of central and northern California. But the National Weather Service offers a few reasons we can all keep calm.

Later this week, I am watching a new storm system that will bring more snow for the Midwest and the Northeast starting Friday into Sunday. The last notable polar vortex was from 2014, but it was preceded by cold snaps in 1977, 1985, and probably many other years prior. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter.

The driving force behind this late week's weather pattern is an anticipated "Polar Vortex", which has developed in the Arctic region and moved south through Canada and through the northern portions of the continental U.S.as of Tuesday afternoon. They occur in the troposphere, high above the planet's surface, and can't be blamed for all the cold weather. Yes I guess a polar vortex might be the term some people used to describe a cold air outbreak but in simple terms I would just prefer to call it an intrusion of arctic air that gets really cold.

Regular, strong polar vortex with fairly stable jet stream (left) compared to the early 2014 weak polar vortex with a detached low pressure system over the United States and wavy jet stream (right).

Forget stopping a runny nose or making sure your phone doesn't die in the cold.

"Polar vortexes are not something new".

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