What Is the Polar Vortex and How Can You Stay Safe and Warm?

https://www.greenandgrowing.org/running-cold-weather-tips-staying-safe-warm/​​​Anyone who regularly listens to the weather or looks at social media will have heard the term “polar vortex” recently. This affected the Midwest in the United States, as well as part of Eurasia. The polar vortex caused temperatures in these areas to plummet to frigid temperatures, causes schools and businesses to close. Some people in the Midwest even lost power for a short time, which is dangerous when it is that cold outside. While this phenomenon took over our news stations, many were still wondering what the polar vortex actually is. We will give you a short summary, and if you want more information, be sure to check out the links within the text.

About the Polar Vortex

A vortex is a whirling mass, so the polar vortex comprises of strong winds around the north pole. Located tens of thousands of feet above the ground, they turn in a counter-clockwise fashion. This keeps the arctic temperatures around the pole, with the winds growing stronger in the winter and weaker in the summer. However, as we have seen recently, those winds can change and send the cold temperatures further south. Many Americans learned about this phenomenon back in 2014, when part of the northern United States experienced a similar drop in temperatures. Many of the places that experienced the polar vortex in 2014 had not seen the area get so cold since the 1980s.

Some studies show that climate change may be a factor that brings the polar vortex further south than normal. As the oceans grow warmer, the ice in the arctic melts at an ever-increasing rate. This allows the water around the ice to absorb some of the summer heat, and then it releases that heat during the winter. This heat creates winds that distort the vortex and send it further south.

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How to Stay Safe

While it is neat to learn about the polar vortex, those affected by it have to prepare themselves for it. In many areas in the Midwest, temperatures dropped below -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This was not counting the windchill, which made some areas feel as cool as -50 degrees. When it gets that cold, frostbite can set in within minutes, so it is important to limit the time you spend outside. If you have to go outside, be sure to dress appropriately. The most vulnerable parts of the body for frostbite include fingers, toes, ears, and other parts of the face. Make sure you cover up each of those vulnerable parts and wear several layers on the rest of your body. 

It is also important to remember to drink water during these cold spells. When it is cold, it may not feel like you are losing as many fluids from perspiration. However, you should still drink plenty of water. If a cold cup does not sound appealing, making herbal tea can help you to warm up and stay hydrated. You should also avoid alcoholic beverages when it is extremely cold. This is because alcohol lowers your core temperature, which then increases your risk of hypothermia.


If the polar vortex ever affects your area, it is important to make sure you are prepared for it. Many power companies asked residents to set their thermostats at a lower temperature to lessen the strain on the power grid. This means that you will need to wear warm clothes inside limit your time outside. The polar vortex can make your area colder than Antarctica, so it is important to cover up! With the right preparation, you can later tell others that you survived the frigid temperatures.

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Lacey Jolley

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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