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Greenburgh Public Library Blog

Weather: Polar Vortex

by Christa O'Sullivan on 2019-01-11T09:30:00-05:00 in Science, Adults | Comments

Weather affects us all, whether we like it or not. I’m a librarian here at Greenburgh but as many of my fellow staff members will tell you, I tend to act as the in house meteorologist. Growing up and living in the northeast, the seasons always fascinated me. Factoring in that I am a librarian, I decided to do some research about why weather happens when it does. What better place to work than a library where access to this information is plentiful. In this series of posts I’m going to shed some light on each season and our everyday weather… we know when it happens but do we know why? 

We all know when winter has struck, even if it’s not December 21st. The first feeling of the biting wind tingling our red tinged cheeks is a sure fire sign that old man winter has made his way back to New York. Winter can be pretty unpredictable in this part of the country (i.e. The Yankees 2018 Season Opener was canceled because of an April 2nd snowstorm!). We all can expect average cold temperatures in the 30s and 40s and the occasional snow storm but what about those deep freezes? When temperatures struggle to get into double digits, it can be the effect of a polar vortex. Although it may sound like something out of the Polar Express, a polar vortex is actually a pretty common weather occurrence in certain parts of the world. Read on to find out more about this chilly weather phenomenon. 
The polar vortex is always occuring. It is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. You might think, why are we feeling these exceptionally cold temperatures if we’re no where near the north or south pole? The reason is that we feel the effects of the polar vortex when the vortex expands and sends cold air southward with the jet stream. Therefore, the bigger the vortex expands, the higher chance we will feel the arctic air. One would think that the polar vortex has to be extremely strong (similar to a hurricane) to force the cold air so far south but it’s actually the opposite. When the system has a strong low pressure system attached to it, the jet stream stays in a straighter, more uniformed direction.  When the low pressure system starts to weaken, the jet stream loses its uniformity, allowing high pressure systems to invade on its territory. This causes the the vortex to become wavy which results in certain parts of the country experiencing frigid temperatures. When a high pressure system invades the vortex, it's a struggle for the weakened low pressure system to win the fight. However, not all cold air masses are because of polar vortexes. Although they're always happening, it's fairly unsual to experience these systems in our neck of the woods. In the United States, we might rememeber the most notable Polar Vortex in 2014. Here are some record low temperatures from that cold snap:
  • January 5th, 2014 - Green Bay, Wisconsin: -18 degrees F
  • January 6th, 2014 -  Babbitt, Minnesota:  −37 degrees F
  • January 7th, 2014 -  New York, New York: 4 degrees F
  • January 7th, 2014 - Atlanta, Georgia: 7 degrees F

If you'd like to learn more about Polar Vortexes and cold weather in general, check out these resources:

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