There is a record-breaking cold making its way down North America. The Washington Post is calling it a “mass of bone-chilling air.” This mass of frigid cold air coming from the arctic tundra is part of a weather phenomenon known as a polar vortex. It formed over Canada, then split into three segments. One of those parts is now making its way down eastern USA.
What Exactly Is A Polar Vortex And How Does One Form?
According to NASA, a polar vortex is “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” In other words, they are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. These vortexes happen only in the winter-time and they develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool.
They occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface). They move in a counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere, and typically just dip down over Canada. Once in a while though a vortex will move further south into the USA on the occasion that warm weather over Greenland or Alaska forces the denser cold air south.
A polar vortex can get so cold sometimes that even frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. There was even a time that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth! Other times, regions in the Deep South like Alabama for example (where it normally stays quite warm for the most part) have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.
Now it seems 2019 has ushered in yet another one of these freakishly cold polar vortexes! Temperatures have reached around -40C In America and Lake Michigan has frozen over. To put the level of coldness into perspective, this is lower than the temperature in Antarctica. Some forecasters are even calling it the ‘deadly polar vortex’.
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This polar vortex has brought about record-breaking temperatures – for example, Chicago reaching -23C, making that the 2nd coldest day the city has ever had! The residents were advised not to breathe deeply or talk outside because of the cold. There, and in other areas, (especially where it is even colder) people were told to keep their mouths covered as much as possible.
The National Weather Service advised:
“To protect your lungs from severely cold air, avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking.”
In the words of a couple of meteorologists:
“If you live up in the Arctic Circle, you’d say this is pretty normal. When it’s actually brought down to this level, that’s when you know it’s something serious.” – Brian Hurley
“I think the proper term is nasty cold. We are very confident this cold is going to be significant… People are right to be concerned.” – Tyler Hasenstein
“The coldest air in a generation is sinking south, with below-zero temperatures already in the Upper Midwest. And the worst is yet to come.” – Dave Hennen
You really know it’s cold out there when the government is declaring a state of emergency. In Illinois, governor JB Pritzker did exactly that by stating:
“There is a real risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Even five minutes of exposure can have very severe health consequences.”
So please make sure to stay safe, and follow all the necessary precautions to avoid health problems. If you do find yourself or someone you know to be affected by the symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, (even if you are not 100% sure…it’s better to be safe than sorry) seek medical attention immediately!
According to the National Weather Service:
“Frost bite can set in with a wind chill of -20 degrees in just 30 minutes. The colder it is outside, the faster the condition — which causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose — will set in. For example, winds blowing at 50 miles per hour when it’s -50 degrees outside can cause frost bite in 2 minutes…Hypothermia is when a person’s internal temperature drops below 95 degrees.”
On the bright side, many gorgeous photos have resulted from the freezing weather. Here are a few floating around the internet for you to enjoy. If you’re there in the vortex now, just play it safe and stay indoors looking at these amazing photographs instead of going outside and freezing to death!