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Global Warming or Dangerous Cold – What is the Polar Vortex?

iStock_000010134168XSmallFor the first time in two decades, temperatures in the U.S. are so cold that scientists and meteorologists are calling it a Polar Vortex. A Polar Vortex, also known as an arctic cyclone, is much like a hurricane that hovers over the North Pole causing dangerously cold conditions with wind chill values as low as 60 degrees below zero.

What is a Polar Vortex and is it related to Global Warming? A Polar Vortex is a pattern of winds that rises in the Arctic resembling cyclones that flows around the North Pole year round. According to Sam Houston State University, a Polar Vortex is formed during the polar winter when stratospheric air moves in a circular motion, with an area of relatively still air in its center. The temperature in the vortex is approximately -130 degrees F (-80 degrees C), which assists in the formation of polar stratospheric clouds. A Polar Vortex is the most dangerous when it weakens as it creates more acute winter conditions and can lead to extreme frigid weather conditions in the eastern U.S.

Some are quick to blame this extreme cold on Global Warming and the decline of Arctic Sea Ice. In the Arctic, the temperature has increased at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, and could increase by another 14 degrees F (8 degrees C) by the end of this century. The warming atmosphere along with new weather pattern extremes is causing Arctic sea ice to melt at an alarming rate – 12% per decade – that suggests the Arctic will be ice-free by 2030.

Sea ice forms and melts in sea water, as opposed to land-based ice such as glaciers, ice sheets or shelves and grounded icebergs and it plays a critical role in global ocean circulation. Sea ice is generally moderated by sunlight – it grows in the winter and melts in the summer – but there are other factors at play in the decline of ice in the Arctic Ocean. Warm ocean currents travel north from the equator and usher in warmer and warmer water, making sea ice growth difficult.

Arctic sea ice is an important component of the global climate system. The polar ice caps help to regulate global temperature by reflecting sunlight back into space. White snow and ice at the poles reflect sunlight, but a dark ocean absorbs it. The impacts of an ice-free Arctic are far-reaching, and could be a trigger for abrupt, cataclysmic climate change in the future. Although it is difficult to see exactly how sea ice decline will impact the local and global environment, basic understanding of the Arctic as well as recent observations give us a good idea of how things might change.

So, as we endure this current Polar Vortex are we simply trying to survive another “Snowmaggedon” or do we really need to take a deeper look at the warming of the Arctic and how it will affect our lives, possibly within the next 15 years?




  • In the Arctic, temperature has increased at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, and could increase by another 8°C (14°F) by the end of this century. (
  • The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the five oceans of the world. It’s roughly 8% the size of the Pacific Ocean.The economic activity from the ocean is limited to the utilization of natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, fish, and seals. (Lifestyle Lounge)
  • Antarctica set the record for the worlds coldest temperature at -129(degrees Fahrenheit.(
  • 60% of the Earth’s fresh water is stored in the polar ice caps. (
  • The all-time world record for the largest snowfall in a single day was set in the United States on December 4, 1913, when Georgetown, Colorado received a staggering 63 inches of snow – more than five feet. (

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