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Polar Vortex Part II

Kristen Kirchhaine
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Fort Wayne's own WFFT Local Chief Meteorologist Kristen Kirchhaine brings you the low down on the "brrr" in freezing.

The Polar Vortex has really made a name for itself! And boy do people hate it, like a naughty celebrity who you can’t stand, but will stay up late to watch on Jimmy Fallon. Admit it, you've used the term in the last few weeks, who hasn't? Or you have at least heard the hype.

The polar vortex talk first gained momentum at the beginning of January. It is now rearing its head again as we move into the end of the month. Temperatures will drop back below zero, with wind chill values well below zero, across much of the Midwest and northeastern United States.

So what in the world is the polar vortex? Basically, it’s an area of low pressure that lives in the arctic. It isn’t new, it is always around. It is a permanent feature. Cold air concentrates at the Earth’s poles, where less warming occurs because of low sun angles (and long nights during northern hemisphere winters). Therefore, cold air pools in a mass, which in the northern hemisphere, shrinks in summer and expands in winter.

From time to time, a piece of the polar vortex can break off and make the move south, toward or, more rarely into, the United States. This will generally happen when the jet stream digs south, forming a trough. Within the trough, cold air from the arctic, or part of the vortex, is free to sweep south. Looking outside, you can't see the vortex like you could a hurricane or a tornado. It's not a storm, it's just an area of low pressure with a very cold, polar origin.

Across the northern and eastern United States we sure have been able to feel the big chill associated with the vortex! And I think most people, myself included, are just ready for it to go away. Dry skin, runny nose, frozen fingers, high heat bills, angry cars, and burst pipes; these are the undesirable side effects of the loathsome cold. Unfortunately, bitter polar air will be around at least through the end of January.

What's in store? The GFS model temperature anomaly map below shows how far above or below average temperatures will be. This map is for Tuesday morning, showing temperatures near 40 degrees below normal for our area.

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With such extreme conditions, here are some winter weather tips to get you through till spring:

  • It's a good idea to leave faucets on at a drip to avoid frozen pipes, you can also open cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate where the pipes are.
  • When the heating system runs so frequently, it becomes very dry. I like to keep a pot of water simmering on the stove to help put some moisture back in the air (often I will throw some cloves or something else in the water to make it smell good too!). It's also important to drink lots of water to keep skin and body hydrated. (Sometimes in the cold and dry weather static is so bad, I'll grab a dryer sheet to rub on my hair to cut down on the static cling.)
  • And remember, don't spend too long outside when the temperatures drop, and when traveling always have a winter weather kit in the car! Don't forget the pets either!! Bring them inside or be sure to give them extra bedding and maintain their unfrozen water supply.

This winter has already been especially frosty with a new low temperature record for Fort Wayne on January 6th, when the air temperature fell to -14 (with a wind chill of 40 something below zero). Another record was tied on the 7th of January with a temperature of -15! For more numbers on the 2013-2014 winter thus far, check out the National Weather Service's Northern Indiana assessment.

Stay warm Fort Wayne!