The 2016 “polar vortex” weather is here, and people in the Central and Eastern U.S. should take precautions. Experts are warning that the wind chill readings will likely hit negative 30-degrees Fahrenheit Saturday night in some places. People facing the vortex risk severe health problems according to John Rowe, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service, saying “the biggest danger is from frostbite.”
Scientific American cited the most extreme weather situations, saying that a few places have a wind chill factor of around negative 60 F — a temperature that can freeze skin in less than a minute.
The National Weather Service warned that the polar vortex will bring the coldest weather of the winter from the Great Lakes to New England.
“Wind chill warnings and lake effect snow warnings are in effect for these areas, with wind chill readings dropping below minus 30 degrees by Saturday night. Actual temperatures will also be frigid with highs in the single digits and teens, and subzero lows across much of upstate New York and New England.”
According to NBC News, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., have a good chance of setting record lows along with Hartford, Connecticut, and Albany, New York.
In New York City, Mayor de Blasio declared a “code blue” and is advising people to check on the vulnerable.
As always, we ask New Yorkers to do their part. Please check on your neighbors, particularly seniors and those with disabilities.
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) February 13, 2016
He also touted some of the successes from his team during the polar vortex, including getting 63 homeless people into shelters, and hospitals taking in another 207 cold refugees.
The extreme weather also contributed to a large car pileup in Pennsylvania that left 50 cars stranded. USA Today warns that if temperatures drop too much, there could be power outages and travel delays.
— Daniel Zampogna (@DanielZampogna) February 13, 2016
The fridged temperatures are being attributed to the polar vortex, which is true, but not in the way many people think.
The polar vortex is a wind pattern circling the north pole that keeps freezing air far up north. Sometimes this weather pattern weakens, and that air escapes and flows down through Canada and reaches the U.S. On occasion, it also affects the jet stream, making that moisture into a large-scale snowstorm.
Scientific American reports that was the cause of 2010’s so-called “snowmageddon.”
The common image that a polar vortex is centering down in Canada or in the U.S. is not quite correct. Still, the phenomenon is interesting, and it will probably start becoming much more frequent. The reason is climate change.
Dr. Judah Cohen, climatologist and winter forecast expert, explained that “decreasing Arctic sea ice and melting spring snow cover” appear to be factors in the weather disruptions.
“These polar vortex weakening events are associated with Arctic outbreaks and winter storms that have surprisingly increased in the era of rapid Arctic change (1990s). However, for reasons I do not fully understand, the eastern U.S. has taken direct hits or has been the focus (of the cold outbreaks) for three winters in a row now.”
In the long run, New Englanders may need to strengthen their winter preparations to deal with an increasingly hostile environment, but for now just getting through the current cold should be hard enough. On Sunday, the Chicago area is expecting two- to four-inches of snowfall. Chicago reached a high temperature of 14 degrees F on Saturday thanks to the polar vortex related weather.
Forecasters say temperatures won’t return to normal until Tuesday.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]