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Maria Gill
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The polar vortex could bring colder weather


⭐️Here's what you need to know⭐️

  • The polar vortex is a large circulation of cold air that forms over the Arctic and Antarctic.
  • The one closest to Canada is called the Arctic Polar Vortex and it can shift southward bringing cold air and frigid temperatures to lower latitudes.
  • The weather system does not move south every winter.
  • Keep reading to learn how the polar vortex works. ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

CBC Kids News explores the extreme weather and natural phenomena that make the news.

One of those weather phenomena is the Arctic Vortex.

The polar vortex can send cold air south for the winter.

When that happens, temperatures could drop by 20 to 30 degrees, said David Phillips, a climate scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“It creates dangerous wind chills that can cause frostbite and blinding blizzards,” Phillips said in an interview with CBC Kids News.

In January, a cold snap brought temperatures to freezing in British Columbia and the Prairies.

For example, Edmonton, Alberta, reached minus 45.9 degrees Celsius.

This freezing weather is attributed to the polar vortex.

But what exactly is a polar vortex?

Read on and watch our explainer video to learn more about this weather phenomenon.⬇️⬇️⬇️

Polar vortex explained

There are two polar vortexes, one over the North Pole and one over the Antarctic.

The Arctic polar vortex has the greatest impact on North America.

But what is it? It is a mass of cold air rotating counterclockwise over the North Pole.

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Every few years, the Arctic polar vortex breaks down and splits into multiple “lobes” that extend southward.

The disturbance also weakens the polar jet stream, which could help push and maintain frigid air over parts of Canada and the United States.

Polar vortex effect

In North America, a weakening of the polar jet stream could allow the vortex to bring frigid temperatures, heavy snowfall and strong winds.

But it's not just about the snow and cold.

In January 2019, a polar vortex brought extreme cold south to places like Chicago, Illinois. It was so cold that the shore of Lake Michigan froze (pictured). Freezing temperatures and icy conditions have closed schools and businesses. (Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The polar vortex can also interact with other weather systems, creating powerful winter storms and snowstorms.

This can cause dangerous driving conditions, disruption of transportation and increased demand for energy for heating.

Relationship to climate change

Experts say that melting Arctic sea ice could change the dynamics of the polar vortex.

“The thinning of Arctic ice and the melting of snow and permafrost are linked to the flow of the polar vortex,” Phillips said.

Aerial shot of sea ice.

Scientists studying Arctic sea ice have noticed that it is waxing and waning over the years. This image was taken over the Arctic Sea during a University of Texas research mission to study melting in July 2022. (Image source: Kerem Yücel/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists say the relationship between climate change and the polar vortex is complex and needs more research.

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Meanwhile, as we brace and brace for the cold grip of the polar vortex each winter, one thing is clear: this weather phenomenon continues to captivate and challenge us, reminding us of the incredible power and unpredictability of nature.

Watch the following weather videos: ⬇️⬇️⬇️

Do you have more questions?Want to tell us how we are doing? Use the “Send us feedback” link below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️

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