The polar vortex isn’t dead yet

Oh, great. We had some remarkably cold weather earlier this month thanks to the break-up of the polar vortex, and now it’s predicted that it’s coming back.

…during the third and fourth weeks of January, some changes will take place. The high amplitude pattern is forecast to get more extreme. The polar vortex will move farther south and get stronger. The pattern will gradually change the current mixture of Pacific and Arctic air in the Canada Prairies and the North Central U.S. to all Arctic air. The air will get significantly colder over the Canada Prairies and the much of the eastern half of the nation as a result.

Isn’t this pretty?


I live right under the first “E” in “EXTREME COLD”.


  1. says

    #1, badgersdaughter:

    As conservapædia would tell you, I am extremely fat. Maybe I’m sprawling over northern states from Minnesota to New York.

  2. brucemartin says

    Your part of the continent will get colder, sure.
    But on the pretty weather map, look at Alaska.
    From your front door there, you can see
    a bunch of hot air.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    I live right under the first “E” in “EXTREME COLD”.

    Greetings from the ‘M’.

  4. ChasCPeterson says

    As someone on the West Coast, all I can say is :Neener neener neener.

    did you miss the part about it causing continuing drought out here?
    not good. No neenering.

  5. rowanvt says

    At this rate California won’t be able to slide into the ocean from an earthquake. It’s just going to light on fire everywhere. ;_;

    And when we finally do get rain, I do NOT want to be on the roads. All that oil accumulation and people in shock over it finally raining is going to make the freeways into deathroads.

  6. dianne says

    I like the cold. Of course, “cold” here is quite different from “cold” in Minnesota. Also, no, this winter does NOT disprove global warming. Sorry.

  7. says

    From under the “D”- the plumbers just left after fixing two burst pipes. For the last week no water upstairs or shower/bath. In the meantime, I injured myself going downstairs at night to pee. :( now I’m wondering if we should even fix the ceilng until Spring. Or maybe before the next we should bleed the pipes until it passes. Mother Nature, this is bullshit! You owe me money!

  8. Trebuchet says

    @10: Yeah. While we’re not on that map, here on the Olympic Penninsula of WA, mountain snowpack is around 30% of normal.

  9. says

    @Chas et al

    Yeah, while I’m loving the weather here in California (I think it was 80+ this week. In Santa Cruz. In January. Let me repeat that. 80+, in January, in Santa Cruz.)

    But I’m scared. Snow pack is at a crazy low in the sierras. Our reservoirs and lakes are at all-time lows. Lake Shasta is at 35% capacity, San Louis is at 30%. I’ve never seen the San Louis reservoir so incredibly low.

    Which is really, really scary. The central valley produces a huge amount of food for the country. Getting enough water to the farms has been hard enough as it is.

    Then there is the fact that with such a dry winter, I am really afraid to see what kinds of wildfires we are in for this year. Shit, there’s already a wildfire in LA (I think it’s considered a wildfire). I just hope the lack of rain will keep growth down enough to reduce the amount of brush for fuel come late summer.

    Then there’s all that drinking water. UGH

  10. kevinalexander says

    Above the ‘M’ and stuck at home. My driveway is a skating rink and the snowplough hasn’t come down the road yet.
    And my scotch is getting low. Now I know how the pioneers felt!

  11. Larry says

    Apparently, there is this very stubborn area of high pressure sitting off the west coast for week now pushing everything north. Here in the bay area of Cali, we’re basking in spring-like conditions but gasping for moisture. It has rained all of one time since fall and that lasted an hour or two. I haven’t been to the Sierra this winter but I’m despairing over the barren landscape that, at this time, should be many feet deep in snow.

  12. numerobis says

    It’s been crazy warm in Montreal the past week and a half — for us, this is a return to seasonable temperatures. Hopefully we can get some snow cover on top of the ice.

  13. magistramarla says

    What I loved about living on the central coast of California were the consistent temperatures.
    It rarely went under 40 degrees or over 65 degrees. Now that we’re back in Texas, I’m hating the wild temperature swings. It can be freezing cold one week and then be in the 80s the next week.
    That, along with the much drier air and the ridiculous cedar pollen, and my sinuses are complaining.

  14. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ugh, I live under the O, and the Redhead has a doctor’s appointment next week. It might be postponed again.

  15. blf says

    80+℉ in Santa Cruz (California) in January!?

    I live there for some years many yonks ago and don’t recall it being that warm then. It did, as I recall, sometimes get just warm enough I did not have to use tights when bicycling (or, more likely as I now recall, a Gore-Tex rainsuit).

    If it’s 80+℉ in Berserkly-by-the-Sea, what the feck is it in San Jose ?

  16. skepticalpete says

    And here I sit, just below the X in VORTEX. We were down to -44ºC (-50º with windchill) for a few days around New Year, and then last week we got up to +4º. Not looking forward to another blast at all.

    What climate change seems to have meant to us here, in the most visible way, is much more dramatic short-term shifts in weather. As recently as the 80s, winter arrived earlier, stayed later, but was much more consistent temperature-wise throughout. Where January used to be a consistent deep freeze, these days it’s “normal” to see 40º differences in temperature over a 24-48 hour period.

    Good weather to stay inside on the computer.

  17. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    I live under the swirly-twirly edge thing. How am I to dress for that?

  18. magistramarla says

    Wow, 80+ in Santa Cruz at this time of year is weird.
    From what I’ve seen, the wind is blowing off the shore instead of in from the Pacific.
    That makes me wonder, is there less of that beautiful mist coming in off the ocean this year?
    That makes me worry about the wine grape crop.
    It also makes me concerned about the wonderful strawberries, artichokes and the veggies that are grown there, from Watsonville to Salinas.

  19. rowanvt says

    blf- As a San Jose resident, I can say that while it hasn’t been in the 80s, we’ve been mid to high 70s here and it’s driving me crazy. I love cold, and I love rain. It “rained” once, and drizzled for about 5 minutes last week. Our hills are brown instead of the lush green of a typical January.

  20. robb says

    the “X” makes a cross hair right on where I live. aargh.

    at least the rinks will be nice and frozen!

  21. says

    @magistramarla – Yeah, very very weird. Scary even. And we’ve had very little rain since the fall (maybe a day or 2)

    @Rowanvt – I’m surprised it hasn’t got into the 80’s in SJ as it’s usually warmer than Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz, Yesterdays high was 82. I work in San Mateo so I haven’t been in town during the high point of the day, but it’s probably been mid 70’s in San Mateo.

  22. leftwingfox says

    I’m under the “R”, and my landlady and her furnace repair company are in an argument over who’s fault it is that my furnace isn’t working properly.

  23. rowanvt says

    @JJ- Yeah, I’m surprised by that as well. Where I am (right next to campbell) can be a little colder than other parts of San Jose/Santa Clara so some areas may have hit the 80s on the day the high here was 78.

    This is a good reminder for me to water my potted trees before I go to work.

  24. Onamission5 says

    I’m underneath the very bottom part of that jet stream swoosh. If I push up hard enough, do you think it’ll move?

    My folks are in south central Oregon and they are getting a little panicky about details like their creek not having refilled yet. They are on a fixed income and live off their garden, but if the creek levels don’t get high enough the irrigation district will divert their irrigation allotment to the hay fields down the way. They usually have about two weeks worth of rain water in their storage tanks for dry spells but no way to store more. If they don’t get rain, they will go hungry next winter. Too bad they can’t eat hay!

    To say nothing about the wildfires surrounding their property last season for months on end. Yikes if there’s a repeat of that. Would that I could ship my area’s extra 30″ of last season’s rainfall their way.

  25. Chie Satonaka says

    All right, time to get around to bringing the car in to get the battery tested. I had to get it jumped last time. And turns out your tires lose more air when it’s super cold. I am so over this winter. (Wisconsin resident here)

  26. says

    The west coast drought is going to cause very serious problems this year. For inland Washington — the area east of the Puget Sound and west of the Cascades, from Olympia north — the snow pack is our reservoir: we rely on gradually melting snow in the mountains for our water supply. There are some holding lakes to manage flooding, but they hold about two or three months worth of water altogether. With the pack between 25% and 35% of normal, we will likely run out by the end of June. That will be bad.

    Thank goodness global warming is a liberal myth, or I would be worried.

  27. kevinalexander says

    Chie @34

    And turns out your tires lose more air when it’s super cold.

    Pedant alert!
    Your tires don’t lose air, they lose pressure in the cold. If you top them up at the hose thingy at the gas station, remember to let some air out again when the weather warms up.

  28. says

    Bottom of the pointy bit of the M here (I’m guessing Rob Grigjanis is fairly nearby), and yeah, it definitely gets a lot colder in Edmonton and Winnipeg.

    But in Edmonton and Winnipeg, people have block heaters on their cars, because that’s normal there. People have proper winter coats/gloves/hats/boots, because that’s normal there. Here where “cold” is when it hits -15/-20 or so, and that happens only once or twice a winter, it’s a lot less “normal” to have that kind of gear, and especially so for those of us who are poor.

    So can we shove the sneering and classist bullshit about how awfully manly and amazing it is for you to live where it’s really cold, and just recognize that people live where they live for complex reasons, and that what’s normal for you may be an extreme for someone else, and that living in the extreme edge of what you’re used to is hard for anyone.

    Or do I need to point to the complaints about horrid heat waves from Edmonton and Winnipeg when the temp hits 30+, and send the URLs along to Melbournites?

  29. blf says

    I am also surprised San Jose is apparently colder than Santa Cruz, since, as far as I can now recall, it’s usually the other way around, regardless of where the planet is in its orbit.

  30. Onamission5 says

    @CaitieCat #38:

    Schools where I am had to close during the last cold snap because wind chills were in the negatives and there’s a lot of kids here who don’t have access to the kind of winter clothing one needs to have to wait for the bus in those temps. I hear you.

  31. Chie Satonaka says

    Pedant alert!
    Your tires don’t lose air, they lose pressure in the cold. If you top them up at the hose thingy at the gas station, remember to let some air out again when the weather warms up.

    The result is a flat tire when you weren’t expecting one, at any rate. I’m too chicken to put air in my tires, I just know I’ll mess it up. Luckily my uncle is my mechanic so extra trips to the garage aren’t too bad. I really need to make sure my battery is okay, too. Someday I will have a garage, and a washing machine, and all the things I’ve dreamed of… :)

  32. futurechemist says

    @34, 37

    Pedant alert!
    Your tires don’t lose air, they lose pressure in the cold. If you top them up at the hose thingy at the gas station, remember to let some air out again when the weather warms up.

    To clarify, the ideal gas law says that the pressure of a gas is directly proportional to the temperature in Kelvin. So for example, if you filled up your tires when it was 50F, and now it’s 0F, your tire pressure will be reduced by around 10%. If you filled up at 75F and now it’s -20F, your tire pressure will be reduced by 20%. Conversely, if you fill the tires at the low temperature, the pressure will be increased by that amount when it warms up.

    I don’t trust the air hoses at most gas stations. It might be my incompetence, but when I use them, my tires wind up with less pressure in them after I “fill” them. Instead, I’m quite fond of portable air/battery devices so I can refill the tires or jump start the battery at home.

  33. ChasCPeterson says

    It’s going to be a grim year out here in the Mojave Desert. The perennials are already crispy and can only get crispier. We’re already past the winter-rain window that would bring annuals. That means no food for tortoises, so no protein, no growth, low juvenile survivorship, decreased reproduction, and if it doesn’t rain this summer, adult mortality too. Nothing for jackrabbits and K-rats to eat means fewer jackrabbits and K-rats, which means in turn that coyotes will switch to digging up tortoises to eat. Crispy perennials and no annuals mean no insects, and therefore no lizards. No lizards or K-rats is bad for snakes. No lizards or snakes is bad for roadrunners and raptors. No bugs is bad for bats and birds; no seeds bad for other birds.
    Drought is bad for west-coast humans, but it means death for the ecosystems that belong here.

  34. says

    I guess it makes a little more sense if you are by campbell, maybe the SC mountains are shading you some :). But yeah, needless to say the weather has been very freaky.


    I am also surprised San Jose is apparently colder than Santa Cruz, since, as far as I can now recall, it’s usually the other way around, regardless of where the planet is in its orbit.

    Yeah, and often by upwards of 10 degrees. Santa Cruz is somewhat of a micro-climate as it’s blocked in by the mountains to the north/east and the pacific on the west/south (Damn town is confusing. The westside of my town faces south [with apologies to the Who])

    One of the local concerns currently is the redwoods. They really, really need the moisture and fog to stay alive. If I’m not mistaken, they don’t ever close their stomata, and rely on that fact to wick water up to the top of tree. With the low moisture and warm dry conditions (and this isn’t just this year) some are wondering how long the redwoods can hold out here.

  35. says

    Rob Grigjanis: Dude! I wore a Wexford, a Guildwood, and a Cedar Hill hockey jacket, at different times in my growth. Scarberia! The Frozen Wastes! Land of the Hockey Jacket!

    <== Woburn & Bethune (85) :D

  36. davem says

    Please send some cold to the UK when it arrives in Minnesoata. We’ve had October weather since , well, October, and it won’t stop raining. Some cold would be very nice, pretty please…

  37. marcus says

    Sounds like a personal problem to me. I live just south of the blue jet stream graphic, (CO). The last time y’all got your naughty bits frozen we got about 20 inches of snow. Can you say “Powder day!”? I knew you could.

  38. unclefrogy says

    what I fear besides what this weather pattern shift will have on the food crops out west where I am and on the mid west this coming growing season. is a fire in the red woods. That would be the saddest thing I can think of
    uncle frogy

  39. says

    @Uncle Froggy
    Your concern happens to be the exact same in my community. Living on the edge of the central valley, where a very large amount of produce is grown*, and water is getting scarcer. In the Pajaro valley, they are even getting salt water intrusion into the ground water from over pumping.

    Then there’s the redwoods. As mentioned above, it’s getting close to what they can take. If it stays dry, not only is there fear of fire (although redwoods are fire resistant, their bark contains asbestos), but also them dying off due to water loss. The larger trees are the ones that are most worrisome.

    *All around me are places reffered to as “Strawberry Capital of the world” (Watsonville), Artichoke Center of the World** (Castroville) Garlic Capitol of the World (Gilroy)

    ** Why they didn’t go with “Artichoke Heart of the World” is beyond me, that one seem obvious.

  40. Rob Grigjanis says

    CaitieCat: When we moved here from the UK, I attended Woburn CI (’68-’72). Cheer cheer for Woburn, cheer with your might…

  41. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    I live under the last E.

    The polar vortex is there all winter; it has just moved down off the poles. But this will be the new normal: with warming in the Arctic, the atmosphere is higher there than in the old days, and air from the warmer regions flows towards it more slowly allowing the jet stream to meander and large masses of cold, dry air and hot, moist air to move out of their usual places and linger longer than they used to.

    Welcome to drought, sweltering, ice storms, fluctuations in growing season with greater death tolls among wildlife and plants, and severe, lingering cold, courtesy of unknowing humanity and blinkered fools.

  42. ChasCPeterson says

    redwoods are fire resistant, their bark contains asbestos

    Yes, old (but not young) redwoods are fire-resistant. No, they do not contain asbestos.

  43. tariqata says

    @CaitieCat & Rob Grigvanis: Hi from the westerly side of the centre of the universe!

    In addition to seconding the point that -20C temps might be considered ‘normal’ in many parts of the world, but in places where they aren’t, many people won’t be properly equipped to stay safe and warm, I think the temperature swings that we’ve been having are also significant. E.g., when the weather goes from -20C to 10C in the span of a week, it’s pretty hard on the built environment. And that kind of physical consequence is expensive to deal with, even if it doesn’t have the same degree of direct human or ecological impact.

  44. says

    @Tariqata “when the weather goes from -20C to 10C in the span of a week, it’s pretty hard on the built environment.”

    True even in Winnipeg, where it happens fairly regularly around this time of year. Over the last two weeks, temperatures have ranged from 0 Celsius to below -40 Celsius. Among other results, we had a water main break near my house last week, resulting in two blocks’ worth of flooding on one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

    @CaitieCat: Plenty of people in colder cities can’t afford proper winter gear, myself included. Going anywhere in January is an adventure at the best of times. So no, it’s not awesome or manly to live here. It’s cold and unpleasant and I pretty much always want to be somewhere else, but can’t afford to move. Don’t make assumptions about people you don’t know.

  45. Holms says

    Meanwhile in South Australia:
    39, 44, 42, 45, 45, 46 C. We stole some of your heat; we’re done with it now though.

  46. David Marjanović says

    While we’re not on that map, here on the Olympic Penninsula of WA

    …Am I understanding this right? The entire state of WA is on the map, right next to AIR.

    their bark contains asbestos

    …Wow, wow, wow. There are people who believe the bark of anything contains asbestos???

    Asbestos is a silicate mineral. Life as we know it cannot make silicates!

  47. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    For what little it is worth: -40 degrees is the same temperature on Fahrenheit and Celcius. (Thanks to Dr. Asimov for that bit of info.) And horribly cold either way.

  48. stripeycat says

    Meanwhile, in southern England, we’re all trying to learn to breathe underwater.

    Although I realise it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, I’m personally worried about my parents’ garden: Dad and I put in several small fruit trees and ornamentals (trees and shrubs) to shade the chicken run last year. Their heavy clay has had standing water on the surface since late October. Unestablished root systems + prolonged waterlogging = dead plants. Hopefully some will survive. Quite apart from the not inconsiderable labour, there was a fair financial outlay for a pair of OAPs. And the lack of frosts (literally none at the parents’; in Oxfordshire we’ve had far fewer and milder than normal) will make for pest and disease problems next year. It’s even trouble for the aforementioned chickens: they have to choose between skulking in shelter all the time, or getting exercise and entertainment in an unhealthy mud-bath. (Not a problem short-term, but over months it becomes a real welfare issue – should we be keeping them if we can’t provide a fit environment?)

    Plus the infrastructure/built environment nightmares, all of which cost someone to fix. Flooding plays hell with road surfaces (and in turn, bad roads damage vehicles and cause accidents). A lot of people lost power and phone-lines in the storms around Christmas. I’m very glad we had to fix the flat roof *last* winter; a lot of other households are less lucky, and of course the roofers are all busy, and can’t work at all during wet weather. On a frivolous note, FA Cup ties kept being postponed because the grounds were unplayable (although, actually, the economic cost there will have been non-trivial, even though it was mostly smaller clubs affected).

    I really, really wish a helpful djinn would take our rain and pack it off to someone who’d welcome it.

  49. bortedwards says

    I just had to choose to move from nice cosy Australia to Upstate New York for winter didn’t I. I’m learning all sorts of fascinating new things like “l-l-l-l-l-ake e-e-e-e-e-ffect s-s-s-s-now” and “frozen snot”…

  50. jodyp says

    Sorry to derail, but PZ, I just had to go check that website just to see if you were kidding or not.

    And holy shit, you weren’t.

    Holy fucking shit.

    They have a whole section on how you, and atheists in general, are overweight.

    The sheer tiny-minded pettiness of it all. My brain is broken. I have to go lie down.

  51. says

    @CaitieCat: Plenty of people in colder cities can’t afford proper winter gear, myself included. Going anywhere in January is an adventure at the best of times. So no, it’s not awesome or manly to live here. It’s cold and unpleasant and I pretty much always want to be somewhere else, but can’t afford to move. Don’t make assumptions about people you don’t know.

    She wasn’t. She was referring to some Canadians in other cold weather posts by PZ making noise about how these temperatures are “nothing”. You didn’t do this, so no one was making assumptions about you.