FIRST ALERT WEATHER SPECIAL: What is a "polar vortex"?

(WBAY) - It seems like almost every winter, certain weather "buzz words" and phrases become very popular in the national news and in social media. Sometimes they generate so much "hype", that many people don't even know what they mean.

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For example, what exactly is a...


The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air that surrounds the North Pole. There's also a polar vortex that hovers over the South Pole. The polar vortex is ALWAYS there – even during the summer. But during the winter, the vortex's counter-clockwise flow of chilly air often expands, sending arctic air southward through North America. This is NORMAL. A polar vortex is nothing new.

The polar vortex is also something that DOES NOT happen at the Earth's surface. It's a weather-maker carved out by the jet stream aloft in our atmosphere. So just because you feel very cold air during the winter, that doesn't mean you're "feeling" the polar vortex.