The infamous weather phenomena, the polar vortex became popularize over the past several winters. When most think of this term thoughts of extreme or even record-breaking cold air comes to mind. Thanks to social media, perhaps trends like tossing boiling water in sub-zero temperatures pops in your head as well. Luckily for the U.S., the past couple of winters we have dodged the winter whiplash of the vortex. However, the meteorology community is suggesting another episode of abnormal arctic air spilling into the lower 48 this winter.
Firstly, let's get a proper definition of the polar vortex. There are two polar vortices on Earth; one of each are located in the north and south poles. Throughout the cooler months the vortex spins tightly in counter clockwise pattern around the arctic region. According to NOAA, the polar vortex is located in the stratosphere, about 18 miles above Earth's surface, which is well above the jet stream, where planes fly, and where most weather occurs. Under stable conditions the arctic spiral keeps the intense cold air bottled near the pole. When warmer air erodes in stratosphere the polar vortex becomes unstable. When that occurs the strict region of arctic air becomes displace and shoots waves of frigid air southward towards the U.S..
Forecasters are hinting towards an outbreak of polar air marching in by the end of January. Over the past couple of weeks, climatologist and meteorologist have monitored warming happening in the stratosphere above the north pole. In fact, Jason Furtado, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma's School of Meteorology has the describe the polar vortex being "severely disrupted."
What does this mean for the Tri-State? The signs of warmer air in the stratospheric region above the Arctic allows forecasters to have a 2-6 week jump on cold air being displace from the north pole. However, the ejection of frigid air could impact other parts of the Northern Hemisphere such as Europe or eastern Asia. The set-up for a polar vortex episode is in place. In the coming days and weeks Storm Team 44 will keep you informed if arctic air invades in.