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WEATHER PATTERN | Dangerously Cold

POLAR VORTEX: This week could be colder than 2014's record


Jaclyn Whittal
Meteorologist

Monday, January 28, 2019, 6:54 PM - The Polar Vortex was one of the most used words in 2014 in the "weather world" and for good reason. 

This winter became one of the coldest on record for many locations in Eastern North America. The extreme cold held off until early January, but the weather pattern was brutal considering the Southern Ontario Ice Storm of December 2013 happened this season. Below, we dig into what the Polar Vortex actually is, where it comes from and how 2019 might rival 2014 year in terms of the cold -- and perhaps even be colder. Read details below.

WHAT IS THE POLAR VORTEX?

The polar vortex is an upper-level low pressure area lying near the Earth's poles. This is nothing new -- it has ALWAYS been there! There are two polar vortices in the Earth's atmosphere, overlying the North and South Poles. Each polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale, low pressure zone that rotates counter-clockwise at the North Pole and beneath that lies a large mass of cold, dense arctic air that sometimes flows south into North America.

THE POLAR VORTEX EVENT OF 2014

The 2014 North American cold wave was an extreme weather event that extended through the late winter months of the 2013–2014 winter season, it brought unusually frigid air to parts of Canada and the U.S. It was caused by a southward shift of the Polar Vortex and didn’t let up until March. Some years Arctic air could be on the move but without snowpack on the ground it can become warmed up through its travels. 

With extensive snowpack across Canada and Siberia in 2014, Arctic air had no trouble remaining extremely cold as it was forced southward. The coldest parts of Canada were the eastern Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories where numerous records were set. 

Winnipeg was the coldest major city in Canada through the event: On January 6, it reached a low of −37°C. On January 7, a cold temperature record was set in Hamilton, Ontario: −24°C. London, Ontario was −26°C. Toronto dropped below -19°C for the first time in nine years, with a temperature of -22°C. The temperatures were so cold that Niagara Falls had the appearance that it had partially frozen over. Additionally, ice cover on the Great Lakes approached record level.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT THIS YEAR?

The temperatures began to plunge in Manitoba first on Saturday night, quickly spread south and east with the core of the coldest temperatures as low as -35oC to -45oC in northern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. On Sunday, the Arctic air continued to spread into the rest of Ontario with widespread -30s and - 40s before from the Hudson Bay coastline to cottage country.

By Monday a piece of the Polar Vortex will move further south into the Great Lakes region. Major cities like Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Buffalo will tap into this air mass as well. During the middle of the week a second shot of Arctic air will dive into the region. Dangerous wind chills in the -30s and -40s are expected for much of the week. Here is a chart demonstrating just how quickly you can get frostbite in these conditions.

The jet stream will dip so far to the South that there is significant snow expected as far South as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. On the Canadian side of the border the same storm will bring a swath of snow from the Prairies to Quebec from Sunday through to Tuesday.

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