NEWBERRY — Living in the South and experiencing the extreme below freezing temperatures such as those that have occurred this week is a rarity.
The polar vortex, as it has been called, has the community wondering what they can expect in the future, and just how the vortex might have occurred.
CNN International senior meteorologist Brandon Miller offered answers for a few pressing questions about the phenomenon.
What is a polar vortex?
The polar vortex, according to Miller, is circulation of strong, upper-level winds that normally surround the northern pole in a counterclockwise direction — a polar low-pressure system. The winds typically keep the cold air trapped in the Arctic Regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It is not a single storm, Miller told CNN listeners.
Every once in a while, the vortex becomes distorted and dips farther south than normally found, allowing the cold air to spill southward.
Miller said that the upper-level winds that make up the polar vortex change in intensity from time to time. When the winds decrease at a significant amount, it can allow the vortex to become distorted, which results in a jet stream that plunges deep into southern latitudes, which brings the bitter cold air we have recently experienced.
Where to find the polar vortex
When a polar vortex occurs, it can lead to major cold air outbreaks in any portion of the Northern Hemisphere — North America, Europe, and Asia, Miller said.This could lead to cold snaps in multiple locations, though that is not always the case.
Unlike a tornado or a hurricane, the polar vortex is more widespread and lasts longer than a single storm. With the widespread drop in temperature, however, it’s easy to see significant winter storms develop, especially when the cold air is initially advancing into a previously warm region, such as the northeastern part of the United States this past week.
Blaming global warming
According to CNN, a common question is whether global warming is to blame for this recent cold snap that is the polar vortex. In short, Miller said that yes, it could be a result, but nothing has been confirmed at this point. Different types of extreme weather can result from the overall warming of the planet, which includes extreme distortions of the jet stream, which can indeed cause heat waves in summer and cold snaps in the winter.
An outside perspective
Simpsonville resident Dr. Stephen Burrus said that although the polar vortex is usually stationary in the arctic circle, every few years we get a piece that makes its way into the deep south.
Burrus is an adjunct professor of mathematics at Newberry College, but before making his way to Newberry, spent 16 years working for the National Weather Service.
“We’ve had a couple of outbreaks since I’ve been in the area,” Burrus said. “Monday was the coldest morning in the 20 years I’ve lived here. It was 5 degrees.”
Burrus said that in the south, our communities just are not used to the polar arctic air, which made this week’s weather such a shock to most Newberrians.
“The good thing about the south is that it may last for a day or two, but eventually the weather will start to moderate,” Burrus said about the polar vortex.
Burrus said that although he did not feel that this type of cold weather was unusual for winter months, that it was more so extreme due to how much of the country was affected with extreme temperatures.
When faced with extreme temperatures such as those we have recently experienced throughout Newberry County, residents should remain inside whenever possible, layering clothing if you must be outside.
Elyssa Parnell can be reached at 803-276-0625, ext. 108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.