Aban­don hope: Po­lar vor­tex pay­ing visit

North­ern states brac­ing for cold, snowy weather

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Doyle Rice

It’s back!

A chunk of the po­lar vor­tex is fore­cast to slide over the cen­tral and east­ern United States over the next few days, mark­ing its first un­wel­come visit of the sea­son. In many lo­ca­tions, tem­per­a­tures will be more like mid-Jan­uary than mid-Novem­ber.

“It’s time to start talk­ing about the po­lar vor­tex,” said weather.us me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ryan Maue. “If your fur­nace is on the fritz, then per­haps it’s a good time to get that fixed.”

Through much of the rest of this week, high tem­per­a­tures in parts of the north­ern Rock­ies and north­ern Plains will barely rise above 32 de­grees each day, the Weather Chan­nel said. Bismarck, North Dakota, may only briefly rise above freez­ing this week­end.

By the week­end, the cold will sweep into the North­east, where day­time highs may strug­gle to get out of the 30s and 40s Satur­day and Sun­day.

Snow is com­ing with the cold in some ar­eas. In the cen­tral Plains, 2 to 6 inches was fore­cast on Wed­nes­day night into Thurs­day. Snow is likely Fri­day and Satur­day near the Great Lakes, in­clud­ing po­ten­tially heavy lake-effect snow in the usual snow­belt re­gions of Michi­gan, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia and New York, ac­cord­ing to Ac­cuWeather.

Lake-effect snow, which can last for a few min­utes or sev­eral days, falls from nar­row bands of clouds that form when cold, dry arc­tic air passes over a large, rel­a­tively mild lake. Th­ese snows can oc­cur only in the fall or early win­ter, be­fore the lakes freeze over.

“The frigid air pass­ing over the still­warm Great Lakes will in­crease chances for lake-effect snow,” said Ac­cuWeather me­te­o­rol­o­gist Steve Travis. In heav­ier snow bands, enough snow could pile up to re­quire plow­ing and shov­el­ing.

The cold fore­cast has sent nat­u­ral gas prices soar­ing, CNBC re­ported.

If the cold per­sists this fall and win­ter, nat­u­ral gas prices could rise above $5 or $6 per mil­lion Bri­tish ther­mal units for weeks at a time, Jen Sny­der of RS En­ergy told CNBC. Traders have not seen those price lev­els since the po­lar vor­tex of win­ter 2014, she said.

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), but thanks to a me­an­der­ing jet stream, some of the vor­tex can slosh down into North Amer­ica, fun­nel­ing un­speak­ably cold air down here.

The vor­tex has likely “ex­isted in some form for the past 4.5 bil­lion years,” ac­cord­ing to se­nior sci­en­tist Jeff Kiehl of the Na­tional Cen­ter for At­mo­spheric Re­search in Boul­der, Colorado.

Af­ter this Arc­tic blast, tem­per­a­tures may re­bound to aver­age or above-aver­age lev­els later in Novem­ber, said Ju­dah Co­hen, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with At­mo­spheric and En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search.

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