What is the polar vortex?

Polar Vortex coming this week
What is a polar vortex?

This is the time of year arctic blasts are known to invade the region. One term that has been popularized in the past few years w/ regards to this is the "polar vortex." It sounds very menacing and it's a real weather phenomenon.

The polar vortex is nothing more than an expansive area of low pressure and cold conditions at the top and bottom of the world at the poles. The fast winds high in the atmosphere are where the term vortex originates.

The polar vortex is always there but it's stronger in the winter. Sometimes it weakens and sends a blast of bitterly cold weather southward.

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This is what we're expecting by midweek; a blast of cold air and very gusty winds. This will bring dangerous wind chill values that could hit -23 to -35 (possibly -40 in some isolated spots) by Wednesday morning.

This will be the coldest air since February 2015 and we'll see several hours of wind chill values below 0.

The polar vortex isn't as uncommon as you might think. The cold snap in February 2015 was influenced by it. But the arctic plunge that brought the term into the popular vernacular hit back in early January 2014.

We had wind chill values with this blast of cold air that were -30 to -40 in much of Central Ohio. Midway in Madison County had a wind chill value as low as -42. Another bout hit in January of 1994 when central Ohio saw almost three days of temperatures (not wind chills) below zero.

Perhaps the worst bout we had with the polar vortex happened back in 1985. On January 25 of that year, we experienced what's been called the "coldest day in history" in Columbus.

The high that day was -5 while the low was -19 at the airport. But that's only half the story. The wind chill at 10 a.m. that morning was -47.

In short, the polar vortex is nothing new and it's around all year long near the poles. In recent years it's become synonymous with what've always been called arctic blasts or what some have just called plain old winter.