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The bitter truth about the polar vortex

Polar vortex. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The last time the polar vortex “came down” and “invaded” the United States, “meteorologists” were amazed and couldn’t wait to share their “knowledge” with you.

Why all the quotes, you ask? Because while the cold air we have seen this winter and will again does have a lot to do with the polar vortex, the information you are getting isn’t completely accurate.

I’m a journalist, not a meteorologist. A lover, not a fighter. So all I am hoping to do is educate you a little bit more about the polar vortex so when you read the endless parade of stories about how it’s back, you can turn to someone – anyone – and say “you know what? This really isn’t true. And here’s why…” At that point, you can expect people to shower you with gifts, look at you with disdain as they take off their gloves or pick up the phone in an attempt to make the most real looking fake phone call.

Even if you never mention my name when you talk about it, just make sure you talk about it. Canadians everywhere will thank you.

What the polar vortex is

Here’s a very non-sciencey definition: A polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale cyclone located near one or both of a planet’s geographical poles. Persistent. It’s not a stranger. It rotates in the upper atmosphere (meaning you can’t walk into it) and contains strong winds of 100 mph or more.

What the polar vortex is not

The polar vortex is not a living breathing dragon-like monster that roams Canada in search of food, stopping to quench its thirst by drinking all of Niagara Falls. It is not hideous to look at and won’t hurt your dog. It is often misunderstood, make that nearly always, but it is no monster and it while it helps to bring in the cold, it isn’t doing it the way you’ve been told.

image1Since the polar vortex is a low-pressure system, pieces of that low break off and move into the U.S. This is always how cold air gets here. The reason we’ve been so focused on the term polar vortex is two fold. One, someone somewhere saw the word on the internet and shared it. All of a sudden, the polar vortex turned into Chuck Norris, this unstoppable force that no one dares upset.

The polar vortex won’t be moving over us or anywhere close to us. The actual circulation will stay in Canada, however it will move further south given the right atmospheric conditions. That happened last time. But in any winter, the pieces of the polar vortex can be strong or weak and this will help determine the level of Arctic air coming in. What we saw last time was unprecedented because the cold air was strong, but to call it something that has never happened or scare us into thinking it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event is completely incorrect and irresponsible reporting.

What is up with the polar vortex this time

Nothing, other than a piece of Arctic air is going to come down and yes it’s a stronger piece. So it will be colder than normal. But the polar vortex is not going to show up in your backyard or frighten the monster in your kid’s closet. What you are seeing is nature being awesome, doing normal awesome things.

So that’s it. That’s pretty much what you need to know about the polar vortex now and ever. We’re already the laughing stock of Canada more now than usual, so contribute to our nation’s collective IQ and share this information as much as you can.

And wear a hat, ok? It’s freakin’ cold outside.

About Scott Kleinberg

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