Science Says: Get used to polar vortex outbreaks

Posted: January 29, 2019 by oldbrew in climate, general circulation, Natural Variation, predictions, Temperature, Uncertainty

Polar vortex [image credit: NASA]

Changing polar vortex patterns and wavy jetstreams – do they suggest solar magnetic changes as sunspots decline, or another 0.01% of trace gases in the atmosphere, or something else? Much scientific head-scratching, although research has been going on for a while.

It might seem counterintuitive, but the dreaded polar vortex is bringing its icy grip to parts of the U.S. thanks to a sudden blast of warm air in the Arctic, writes Seth Borenstein.

Get used to it. The polar vortex has been wandering more often in recent years.

It all started with misplaced Moroccan heat. Last month, the normally super chilly air temperatures 20 miles above the North Pole rapidly rose by about 125 degrees (70 degrees Celsius), thanks to air flowing in from the south. It’s called “sudden stratospheric warming.”

That warmth split the polar vortex, leaving the pieces to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.

“Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air,” Cohen said.

By Wednesday morning, one of those pieces will be over the Lower 48 states for the first time in years. The forecast calls for a low of minus 21 degrees (minus 29 Celsius) in Chicago and wind chills flirting with minus 65 degrees (minus 54 Celsius) in parts of Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.

The unusual cold could stick around another eight weeks, Cohen said.

“The impacts from this split, we have a ways to go. It’s not the end of the movie yet,” Cohen said. “I think at a minimum, we’re looking at mid-February, possibly through mid-March.”

Americans were introduced to the polar vortex five years ago. It was in early January 2014 when temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees (minus 27 Celsius) in Chicago and meteorologists, who used the term for decades, started talking about it on social media.

This outbreak may snap some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground.

When warm air invades the polar region, it can split the vortex or displace it, usually toward Siberia, Cohen said. Recently, there have been more splits, which increase the odds of other places getting ultra-cold, he said.

Pieces of the polar vortex have chilled Europe, Siberia and North America this time. (It’s not right to call the frigid center of cold air the polar vortex because it is just a piece or a lobe, not the entire vortex, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.)

When the forces penning the polar vortex in the Arctic are weak, it wanders, more often to Siberia than Michigan. And it’s happening more frequently in the last couple decades, Furtado said.

A study a year ago in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society looked at decades of the Arctic system and found the polar vortex has shifted “toward more frequent weak states.”

Continued here.

  1. A C Osborn says:

    I wonder if they ever think about where the Warm Air goes when it “invades” the arctic?

  2. hunter says:

    Hmmmm, no.
    Winters have always had blasts of cold air.

  3. Gamecock says:

    Exactly, hunter! Tonight’s low will be no where near a record. It’s January. It gets cold.

    Borenstein puts a Halloween mask on weather. Only children will be scared.

  4. JKrob says:

    “The unusual cold could stick around another eight weeks, Cohen said.”

    WS Forecast for: Andover MN
    Issued by: National Weather Service Twin Cities/Chanhassen, MN
    Last Update: 8:13 am CST Jan 29, 2019

    Saturday: Partly sunny, with a high near 37. South wind around 10 mph.

    Saturday Night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 22. South southwest wind 5 to 10 mph becoming north northwest after midnight.

    Sunday: A 20 percent chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 28. Northeast wind around 10 mph.

    NWS Forecast for: Mount Morris MI
    Issued by: National Weather Service Detroit/Pontiac, MI
    Last Update: 5:17 am EST Jan 29, 2019

    Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 31.

    Saturday Night: A chance of snow after 2am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 25.

    Sunday: A chance of rain and snow. Cloudy, with a high near 42.

    Sunday Night: Rain and snow likely. Cloudy, with a low around 29.

    Monday: Rain and snow likely. Cloudy, with a high near 39.

    Cold isn’t going to even hang around for 8 days much less 8 weeks :-/

  5. hunter says:

    I recall when the Global Warming movement realized that reality wasn’t cooperating and they rebranded to “climate change”.
    They also spent years (and millions$) on “messaging”.
    Skeptics derided the amount of time and money squandered by alleged Scientists on marketing and messaging.
    Well now we see the results:
    Normal weather, even normal seasonal changes, have been “repurposed” into “extreme weather”, etc.
    The climate scammers have been a step ahead in pushing this B’s for years.
    Reality itself has been hijacked by this wicked social madness.
    How to end the madness?

  6. Curious George says:

    Climate “scientists” are always eager to establish a “new normal” for “anthropocene”. Notice all the quotes in that sentence. Newspeak is descending upon us.

  7. mpcraig says:

    I’ve always found this document interesting:

    The tone of climate scientists back in 1975 was really quite different than today. And part of that paper seems to address the cause of the polar vortex.

    “During cooler climatic periods, however, the high-altitude winds are broken up into irregular cells by weaker and more plentiful pressure centers, causing formation of a “meridional circulation” pattern.

    These small, weak cells may stagnate over vast areas for many months, bringing unseasonably cold weather on one side and unseasonably warm weather on the other.

    Droughts and floods become more frequent and may alternate season to season, as they did last year in India. Thus, while the hemisphere as a whole is cooler, individual areas may alternately break temperature and precipitation records at both extremes.”

  8. another Jim says:

    Hum, reminds me of the winter of 1976-77.
    Very cold in the mid west USA, warm in Alaska.
    Nothing new to see here.

  9. hunter says:

    I do wonder if it’s the warm air pushing north to shed heat, or cold air shifting south to chill things that warms the far north?

  10. oldbrew says:

    thanks to air flowing in from the south. It’s called “sudden stratospheric warming.”

    South? SSW comes from the stratosphere as the middle S indicates.

    Met Office: air in the stratosphere starts to collapse in to the polar cap and compress. As it compresses it warms, hence the stratospheric warming.
    – – –
    When the forces penning the polar vortex in the Arctic are weak

    Which forces? Science not settled 😐

  11. craigm350 says:

    Reblogged this on CraigM350 and commented:
    So how long have they been measuring?
    The first continued measurements of the stratosphere were taken by Richard Scherhag in 1951 using radiosondes to take reliable temperature readings in the upper stratosphere (~40 km) and he became the first to observe stratospheric warming on 27 January 1952. After his discovery, he assembled a team of meteorologists specifically to study the stratosphere at the Free University of Berlin and this group continued to map the northern-hemisphere stratospheric temperature and geopotential height for many years using radiosondes and rocketsondes.

    In 1979 when the satellite era began, meteorological measurements became far more frequent. Although satellites were primarily used for the troposphere they also recorded data for the stratosphere. Today both satellites and stratospheric radiosondes are used to take measurements of the stratosphere.

    So yeah let’s extrapolate from where there’s a paucity of data 🤨

    P. S. The vortex wandering is more likely to be due to solar/lunar influences.

  12. Gamecock says:

    ‘The vortex wandering is more likely to be due to solar/lunar influences.’

    And I thought it was just due to winter.

  13. craigm350 says:

    JKrob – Judah means the pattern is likely to repeat, with varying intensity, for that period. Similar to 2013 when the Jan SSW perturbed the atmosphere for months leading to the very cold March (which incidentally was quite warm before the cold struck) into early April. The Beast from the East over the UK in March 2018 came in 3 waves approximately 2 weeks apart. It was warm in between but the 1st wave had coldest March day ever in some places (since 1878 on CET) and the 2nd wave centered around St. Patrick’s Day had coldest 18 Mar since 1853.

    The after effects of the SSW from this early Jan are only now just propogating down into the troposphere so will effect the northern hemisphere for some weeks to come. Whether the cold repeats over the US is another matter. Hopefully we get something in Blighty though as it hasn’t done much for us…yet.

  14. oldbrew says:

    Chicago is expected to be colder than Mount Everest base camp

    UPDATED ON: JANUARY 29, 2019 / 5:21 PM / CBS NEWS

    Chicago is set to experience one of its coldest days on record, with the high temperature expected to be 12 degrees below zero on Wednesday, CBS Chicago reports. That would make it colder than some of the most frigid places on Earth.

    At its lowest, the temperature in Chicago is expected to plunge to 21 below zero at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, according to Weather Underground. That’ll feel like 48 below zero with the windchill.
    – – –
    What would global cooling look like? Just wondered 🙂

  15. oldbrew says:

    Here they try to blame it all on melting Arctic sea ice. But melting stabilised about 12 years ago so not clear how that would work 😐

    What Is This Polar Vortex That Is Freezing the U.S.?
    Why frigid air, normally bottled up at the North Pole, sometimes pours down as far south as Florida

    Editor’s note (1/29/19): This week’s deep freeze is being caused by the same mechanism that iced the Eastern U.S. in 2014. Our explanation, written at that time, is on target for this week as well; it appears below.

  16. stpaulchuck says:

    Minnesota temperatures same as 1992. They’re screaming about -25 when it hits lower than -30 routinely in central Minnesota almost every year. Meh.

  17. BoyfromTottenham says:

    From Breitbart News today:
    “Some 160 warming centers were opened in Chicago, where temperatures could potentially equal or exceed the all-time record of -27 degrees Fahrenheit. With the wind chill, it would feel like -40 or -50, officials said.

    “They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a news conference.

    In Minneapolis, officials allowed residents to stay on public buses and trains for warmth.

    In the northeastern and southern United States, snow was falling.

    A cold emergency was declared in the U.S. capital Washington, with additional services put on for the homeless.

    In the southern city of Atlanta, some 300 flights were canceled Tuesday, and more than 400 were canceled in Chicago, a major regional hub for US airlines.

    In Canada, the icy temperatures — stretching from Manitoba in the western Prairies region to the Atlantic seaboard — prompted a rare “hazardous” cold warning from the government.

    Environment Canada reported record-breaking snowfall at the Ottawa airport, where some 50 flights were canceled, with an accumulation of nearly a meter (more than three feet).

    An additional 200 flights were canceled at Toronto’s airport.”

    These sound like extracts from an ‘end of the world by freezing’ novel, rather than a news bulletin! Amazing but true.

  18. oldbrew says:

    Winter 1985 cold wave
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The winter 1985 cold wave[1] was a meteorological event, the result of the shifting of the polar vortex farther south than is normally seen.[1] Blocked from its normal movement, polar air from the north pushed into nearly every section of the central and eastern half of the United States and Canada, shattering record lows in a number of areas.[1] The event was preceded by unusually warm weather in the eastern U.S. in December 1984, suggesting that there was a build-up of cold air that was suddenly released from the Arctic, a meteorological event known as a mobile polar high, a weather process identified by Professor Marcel Leroux.

  19. oldbrew says:

    Tony Heller asks: “If the Polar Vortex is caused by global warming, why does it mimic the pattern of the last ice age?”

  20. oldbrew says:


    The New York Times also pushed Cohen and Francis’s theory of global warming-induced cold. However, many scientists disagree with that theory and, in fact, there seems to be more evidence it’s just plain wrong.

    “Frankly, it is a stretch to make that link,” Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told TheDCNF.

    “There is always cold air over the Arctic in the polar night and the question is whether it sits there or breaks out,” Trenberth said. “So all this is in realm of weather. Not climate.”
    – – –
    Daily snow record broken in Toronto, widespread record-breaking cold expected, Canada
    Posted by Teo Blašković on January 29, 2019

    A multi-day episode of very cold wind chills continues affecting much of southern Canada. A frigid arctic air mass and brisk winds will result in wind chill values of -40 to near -55 °C (-40 to -67 °F) this morning and again tonight into Wednesday.

    Wind chill values of this magnitude are relatively rare in this region, especially in North Ontario and are extremely dangerous.

  21. dennisambler says:

    Stefan Rahmstorf thinks the world except the US is abnormally hot:

    “In response to President Trump’s January 20 tweet about cold temperatures, Potsdam University physicist Stefan Rahmstorf noted on Twitter that, while North America was experiencing cold Arctic air, the rest of the world was abnormally hot. And, the polar vortex bringing that cold air to the U.S. may actually become increasingly unstable, Rahmstorf noted.”

    If the Arctic is warm, as they keep telling us, where is all the cold air coming from?

  22. hunter says:

    Rahmstorf, as usual, is less than honest.
    What is it with people Attenburogh and Rahmstorf selling false stories to vulnerable leaders?

  23. oldbrew says:

    the rest of the world was abnormally hot

    Just had the first snow this winter last night here in NW England. Not a lot locally, but parked cars are white and it’s taking time to thaw…

    Snow closes schools in Greater Manchester plus city airports
    32 minutes ago
    – – –
    Only about 2 weeks ago parts of ‘abnormally hot’ Bavaria were over head height in snow.

    Why do these climate nutters experts have to make such obviously silly statements? Desperation setting in perhaps.

  24. oldbrew says:

    USPS Halts Mail Delivery In Minnesota Due To Polar Vortex
    January 29, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    All of Minnesota will have feel-like temperatures Wednesday morning ranging between minus-32 and minus-56 degrees. Frostbite can set in on exposed skin within five minutes of exposure.
    – – –


    Note the numbers for 1996 and 2009 – trend?

  25. A C Osborn says:

    Take a look at NuSchool Earth and tell us where this warmth is in the Arctic, it should be an area equivelent to the area of cold in the USA.
    It is nowhere to be seen in the Arctic.

  26. oldbrew says:

    Also from Justin Weather: Modeling shows lower solar activity for the rest of this century.

  27. tallbloke says:

    That figure looks familiar. 🙂

    I’ve emailed Justin weather:

    I noticed that on your page here:
    You used a graphic I made at the bottom of the page. My colleague Rick Salvador developed the model and I updated the data on it in green. If you’re still interested in the progression of the data vs our model, please let me know and I’ll keep you updated periodically. In the meantime, please would you substitute in this graphic, which credits the author of the model.

    Many thanks
    Roger Tattersall

  28. oldbrew says:

  29. JKrob says:

    craigm350 says: “JKrob – Judah means the pattern is likely to repeat, with varying intensity, for that period.”

    I don’t care what you *interpret* what Judah to have said, I only know what Judah *did* say & that is for the cold conditions to persist (presumption – as it is now) which it will not do. The Hudson Bay Low/Polar Vortex/whatever will weaken & retrograde north/west in the near-term…for now.

    This feature is there in some form every Northern Hemisphere winter so it is nothing new. It is amplified by a large value/blocking high over Bearing Sea. This causes the Hudson Bay low to amplify *and* causes what is called ‘cross polar flow’ – due to the ridge, flow across Siberia/Eastern Russia is directed north toward & across the polar region southward across the Canadian Archipelago, south across central Canada into the US. The more snow on the ground along it’s path, the more the polar air is maintained (stays cold) & not modified (warmed). When the ridge breaks down or retrogrades into Siberia, the Polar Low weakens or retogrades westward with the high. This is all associated with Jet Stream Teleconnections.

  30. oldbrew says:

    Colder than Antarctica: brutal deep freeze grips US Midwest
    January 30, 2019

    A life-threatening deep freeze gripped the American Midwest on Wednesday as weather colder than Antarctica grounded flights, disrupted travel and brought life to a standstill for tens of millions.

    Mail deliveries were suspended, schools and business closed, and residents encouraged to stay home in nearly a dozen states where temperatures overnight sank into the negative double digits, the worst cold to grip the region in a generation with all-time records still under threat.

    America’s third city Chicago—where the morning temperature was -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius), which felt like -50 degrees (-46 Celsius) with wind chill—was colder than Alaska’s state capital and even colder than parts of Antarctica. [bold added]

    Read more at:
    – – –
    ‘Extremely dangerous’ cold weather grips Prairies, Ontario, Quebec
    Wind-chill values of –50 and colder

    At 7 a.m. CT, it was –40 C in Winnipeg and felt like –50 with the wind chill.

    In Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern Ontario, forecasters are warning of wind-chill values of –50 or –55, and in parts of Nunavut –60.

    “Wind-chill values of this magnitude are relatively rare for this region and are extremely dangerous,” the warning in several northern Ontario regions says.

    Extreme cold can cause hypothermia and frostbite, and the warnings tell people to watch for symptoms related to the conditions: shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness, and colour change in fingers and toes. The weather agency also says that frostbite can occur within minutes.

  31. pochas94 says:

    I’d like to speculate that the ultraviolet component of solar radiation stabilizes the polar vortex. With an active sun, more UV means more radiation absorbed in the stratosphere which means the stratosphere becomes active in the global advection pattern and there is a greater tendency for sinking air near the poles. This would also affect the so-called ozone hole. Stagnant air inside the now stable vortex would become more depleted in ozone while the wall of the vortex would become more concentrated. Does this match the facts?

  32. oldbrew says:

  33. oldbrew says:

    The climate excuses conveyor belt of derangement never ends…

    Nolte: Experts Claim Every Kind of Weather Proves Global Warming Is Fer’ Real

    America enjoys a winter filled with tons of snow and frigid cold weather and out pops the Climate Hoaxsters to assure this kind of weather only further proves our planet is getting, uhm… warmer.
    This current Climate Hoaxster freak out is largely in reaction to President Trump’s tweet earlier this week mocking the Climate Hoaxsters.

    “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded,” he tweeted. “What the hell is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!”
    – – –
    Coldest temperature since 2012 as Aberdeenshire drops to -14.4C
    1 hour ago

    Until the recording in Braemar, it had been thought that Loch Glascarnoch, near Garve, in Wester Ross, was the UK’s coldest place after temperatures there plunged to -13.6C overnight into Thursday.

  34. oldbrew says:

    Roy Spencer counters the ‘warm causes cold’ propaganda…

  35. oldbrew says:

    CBC News: Albertans could be smacked by lows of –37 C and as much as 50 cm of snow within days
    – – –
    Roger A. Pielke Sr., senior research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, said the polar-vortex phenomenon isn’t new. “These southward movements of part of the vortex have always occurred,” said Mr. Pielke in an email. “With respect to climate, a strong polar vortex occurs when it is particularly cold at higher latitudes. The colder the troposphere at the higher latitudes, the stronger is the polar jet stream. So if anything, these extreme Arctic outbreaks suggest global warming has little effect on them.”

  36. oldbrew says:

    BBC: At least 21 people have died in one of the worst cold snaps to hit the US Midwest in decades.

    Ninety million people – a third of the US – have seen temperatures of -17C (0F) or below. Some 250 million Americans overall have experienced the “polar vortex” conditions.

    Hospitals have been treating patients reporting frostbite as parts of the country ground to a halt.
    . . .
    Cotton, Minnesota, was the coldest place in the US on Thursday with a low of -48C (-56F) based on preliminary data.
    – – –
    Even colder in parts of Canada.

  37. oldbrew says: