Winter in many parts of the Northeast and other parts of the United States may have seemed mild so far, but it seems as though a mid-December 2016 polar vortex is coming sometime soon. Although it’s not yet known if this year’s polar vortex will bring the same freezing temperatures as the winter we experienced in 2013-2014, North America can expect some very cold temperatures sometime soon if not already. We also know that more than likely we will experience two waves of the cold air.
Parts of North America are experiencing the first wave right now, but the second wave is coming sometime next week–that’s the one some experts are nervous about. Already there’s been a massive Michigan vehicle pileup of 30-40 cars/trucks caused by the icy conditions from lake effects and the abnormally cold conditions.
Update–December 13, 2016: And we’re now about to experience the second wave of the polar vortex. This week, CNN suggests that 3/4 of the country will see freezing temperatures. Seven percent of the country will see below-freezing temperatures. Find out where you stand below.
Polar Vortex 2016 Forecast
Updated December 13th, 2016
As stated before, experts and meteorologists are expecting the polar vortex to hit in two waves. The Upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, and parts of the middle of the country are already experiencing wave one of this cold air. These areas are seeing some temperatures 20 or 30 degrees Farenheit below normal.
But what about the second wave, predicted to hit possibly by/on December 14th? That’s the one believed to be the doozy. Computer models, which The Washington Post calls “unanimous,” suggest the northern Rockies and the northern plains experiencing cold weather as soon as Sunday, December 11, 2016. From there, it will reach Chicago by Tuesday (12/13) and the northeast like New York City by Wednesday (12/14) or Thursday (12/15). New York in particular can expect to see temperatures from the high 20’s and low 30’s until Sunday.
CNN reports that 3/4 of the country will see freezing temperatures this week. “This week’s dangerous cold will sweep the country from Bismarck to Boston with -10 to -35 degree wind chills expected,” CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen said. “At -35 degrees, wind chills takes only 10 minutes for frostbite to occur.” If you’re in the Upper Midwest, the worst period of time by far is going to be late Wednesday and early Thursday. Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Chicago will experience temperatures up t0 -35 degrees wind chill.
Snow is also on the menu for much of the United States. If you’re not already digging out snow when reading this, the Northwest and northern Plains can expect some flurries on Thursday, and then the Midwest Friday and likely to the Northeast by Friday or Saturday.
The only good news about this polar vortex is that unlike the one in 2014, we’re experiencing this one in mid-December, not mid-January when temperatures are much colder. Thankfully, this Polar Vortex will be pushed out by warmer temperatures. In the graphic below, you can see the warm air coming… eventually.
One of the worst things about the Polar Vortex dipping into the lower 48 states are the increased number of airport closures we see.
What Is A Polar Vortex?
Simply put, a polar vortex is the extremely cold, dense air that hangs just below the stratospheres above the North Pole and the South Pole. As you can imagine, this air is freezing cold.
It’s perfectly normal for the two vertices to strengthen and weaken as the seasons change, but more often than not the North Pole vortex is weak. When the vortex is weaker, it sometimes becomes two vertices–meaning that instead of cycling the cold air around the arctic, the arctic begins taking a trip towards the equator.
In the photo below (which looks down on the North Pole, not North America), a strong polar vortex can be seen on the left. Note how the cold air remains in one place. On the right, you see what happens when the vortex weakens and splits into two (or more) vertices: there’s a lot more cold air. This phenomena has been going on for millenia, although only recently after the harsh 2013-2014 winter did the word become so popular.