Watch out for a strong polar vortex (That’s a good thing)

One aspect of emerging media and is the rapid dispersal of terms that come up in the news. Some things have always been there, and just get out of hand when they enter the news cycle. Things like “bomb cyclone” seem absurd to the point of frivolity if you don’t know the definition. I’ve gotten into debates on Twitter about Particularly Dangerous Situations being assigned to some weather watches, because the other Twitter user thought meteorologists were being overdramatic in their terminology. It’s a lesson in never using Social Media.

One term that really exploded in the last half decade was “Polar Vortex” which emerged in the midst of a persistent cold snap that was particularly cruel to the Eastern Seaboard. Since the East Coast is where most media, and really most of the people in the country reside, the term was foisted upon the country. There were some amusing consequences.

But mostly, it just annoyed meteorologists, because the colloquial definition of the polar vortex is not correct. As the media may have led some to believe, the polar vortex is not just a surge of cold air that dive bombs the mid latitudes out of the Arctic.

A vortex is something that rotates, The Polar Vortex, then, is the Arctic jet that spins around the North Pole. Ergo when it is strong, as is the case with all jet streams and streaks, it represents a sharp temperature contrast on other side of the streak. While it will certainly be cold north of, or within the vortex, it’s strength suggests that it will actually be fairly warm south of it.

Weaker flow can lead to some ripples in the jet, which can mean lobes of cold air pressing further south, particularly later in the year when high latitudes start to get colder on their own. Right now, though, it looks like we have a stout Polar Vortex to guide us into winter, and that is a good thing.

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