February 28, 2021

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An arctic blast is coming. And we can blame the infamous polar vortex.

3 min read
  • By early next week, much of the nation will see below-freezing temperatures.
  • The core of the bitter cold will be in the Upper Midwest and northern Plains.
  • The cold air “will be dangerous for young children, the elderly and those with respiratory or cardiovascular issues.”

Get ready to shiver. The infamous polar vortex is on its way again. 

By early next week, much of the nation will see below-freezing temperatures. When asked whether the cold blast will be from the polar vortex, meteorologist Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research told USA TODAY: “Definitely.” 

As is often the case, the core of the bitter cold will be in the Upper Midwest and northern Plains, where wind chill temperatures will plummet as low as 40 degrees below zero in parts of the Dakotas this weekend.

The National Weather Service in Chicago said, “The coldest air mass of the season remains on track to arrive this weekend and continue into or through the next work week.”

In the Chicago area, low temperatures in some spots will be 10 degrees below or colder, while wind chills of 20 to 30 below or even colder will be possible Sunday night into Monday, the service said.

Sixteen states across the Midwest and northern Plains are forecast to endure temperatures below zero Monday morning, CNN said. That covers 16% of the country and 41 million people.

The blast of frigid air is likely to advance deep into the south-central states and across the entire eastern third of the nation by early next week. Though it won’t be as cold as in the north-central USA, it will still be the coldest it’s been in the past several years in many areas of the eastern USA, following last winter’s mildness. 

The forecast low temperatures for Monday Feb. 8, 2021, across the nation.

The arctic air will not only increase heating demands, AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, but “it will also turn cold enough to make it painful to be outdoors and pose a risk of frostbite and hypothermia for those not properly dressed.”

In the north-central USA, the cold air “will be dangerous for young children, the elderly and those with respiratory or cardiovascular issues,” Sosnowski said. 

What is the polar vortex? 

The polar vortex is a large area of cold air high up in the atmosphere that normally spins over the North Pole (as its name suggests). It usually keeps the coldest air locked up in the Arctic.

When the polar vortex is “strong,” cold air is less likely to plunge deep into North America, weather.com meteorologist Jonathan Erdman said. The stronger the polar vortex, the milder our winter is. (This is what happened last winter.) 

When the polar vortex weakens or even splits, it allows frigid air to escape and push southward toward the USA, which is forecast to happen over the next few days. 

The vortex is strongest during the winter and usually weakens or even disappears in the summer. Its position can determine what part of the USA the Arctic air will invade.

It can divide into several parts, then get back together again, like the cop in “Terminator 2.” 

It’s thought that the term “polar vortex” first appeared in an 1853 issue of the magazine Littell’s Living Age, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. 

Scientists reported that the polar vortex has been wandering more often in recent years. Some scientists said there may be a connection between global warming and the wandering vortex: The theory is that when weird warmth invades the Arctic, some of the cold that’s supposed to stay up there – including the vortex – instead sloshes down south into North America and Europe. 

The polar vortex made parts of the Midwest colder than Antarctica.

Look out, Florida: More falling iguanas coming

Though not related to the upcoming cold blast, a brief cooldown in Florida this week prompted yet another “falling iguana” alert from the National Weather Service in Miami: This is because “iguanas are cold blooded,” the weather service said. “They slow down or become immobile when temps drop into the 40s. They may fall from trees, but they are not dead.” 

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