Weather Word Wednesday: Polar Vortex

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 3:36 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 3:39 PM CST
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QUAD CITIES, Iowa/Ill. (KWQC) - The polar vortex is a little more than just cold, wind and snow.

In fact, it’s a phenomenon that doesn’t even occur at the surface of the Earth. It occurs several thousand feet above us.

The polar vortex is defined as a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of earth’s poles. It always exists near the poles.

It weakens in the summer months and strengthens during winter.

The term vortex is used to describe the counter-clockwise flow of air that keeps the bitter cold air near the poles.

When the jet stream is strong, the difference in air pressure keeps the jet stream “straighter” and keeps the cold air trapped closer to the arctic.

When the jet stream weakens, it becomes “wobblier”, allowing lobes of colder air to plunge southward into the United States.

Weakening of polar vortex was responsible for the arctic outbreak that led to all-time record cold temperatures and dangerously cold wind chills the Quad Cities area experienced back in late January of 2019.

Polar vortex is a term that has been used for nearly 170 years. It was first used by a meteorologist in the year 1853.

Previous Weather Word Wednesday segments on Quad Cities Today at 11:


Ice Jams

Bomb Cyclone

Snow Squall


Radiational Cooling

Lake Effect Snow