Polar Vortex Phenomenon

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Polar Vortex Phenomenon
Photo by Neenu Vimalkumar / Unsplash

The polar vortex has been said to be the cause of the extreme cold weather in the US in 2014. Also, the February and March 2018 cold weather experienced in the UK and Western Europe which began from Siberia (Beast from the East) has also been blamed on the polar vortex.

Experts have foretold that the polar vortex will be responsible for a very cold January and February in many parts of Northern Europe, the northeastern United States, and some places in Asia. But first, let’s look at the meaning of the Polar vortex.

What is Polar Vortex?

The polar vortex is a low-pressure area that lies close to one of the Earth’s poles. A polar vortex is mostly responsible for exceptional cold and it develops in a part of the atmosphere (stratosphere) where a majority of weather patterns begin. It gives rise to extreme cold during winter as a result of an increased temperature difference between the polar regions and the mid-latitudes- Europe and the US for instance.

Each of these swirling clouds is a result of a meteorological phenomenon known as a Karman vortex. These vortices appeared over Alexander Selkirk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. Rising precipitously from the surrounding waters, the island's highest point is nearly a mile (1.6 km) above sea level. As wind-driven clouds encounter this obstacle, they flow around it to form these large, spinning eddies.
Photo by USGS / Unsplash

Most of the time, whenever the vortex is at its strongest, there’s little probability of cold air moving deep into Europe or NA as it creates a wall that prevents the movement of cold Arctic air into the mid-latitudes.

However, there are times that the polar vortex is affected as a result of wave energy that moves upward from the lower atmosphere, disrupting and weakening it. After some days, the stratosphere warms swiftly. This is known as “sudden stratospheric warming” hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface. When this occurs, the polar vortex becomes weakened and changes its location to the South of the pole or breaks the vortex into smaller vortices.

What are the effects of these events?

The sudden warming of the stratosphere can result in a warm arctic in both the troposphere and stratosphere. As a result of this, exceptional winter weather in the Eastern US and the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes becomes favored due to the warm arctic.

A swift and delayed effect that includes dwindling temperatures and exceptional winter weather in the eastern United States, as well as Northern and Western Europe, occurs as a result of the split in the upper part of the atmosphere.