Polar Vortex: Record Breaking Cold Descends on Midwest

At this point in time, you may have heard the term "Polar Vortex" throughout news channels and social networks due to recent events in the midwest and east coast regions of the United States. The coldest air in this generation is a direct result of a collapse in the Polar Vortex.

What is a Polar Vortex? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the Earth's Northern and Southern poles. "The term vortex refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air close to the poles (left globe)". The reason why the US experiencing record breaking cold air and temperatures is because the fact that, as the polar vortex becomes less stable and expands, "sending cold Arctic air southward over the United States with the jet stream (right globe)".

The science behind the polar vortex.

The Polar Vortex currently is wreaking havoc across the Midwest and East Coast. As the cold air moves south, record breaking temperatures are being seen at their lowest levels in over a generation.

Multiple states have declared a state of emergency and are urging residents to keep warm and remain indoors. Overnight, parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and other midwest states have seen a 30 degree drop below zero in temperature.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency stating that "I'm concerned about the safety and well-being of our residents as this major storm and bitter cold moves in...I want to make sure all state assets are available, including the Wisconsin National Guard if needed, to help communities across the state and keep people warm and safe". The state of emergency is set to to remain until Friday, Feb.1.

“Don’t be fooled by the sunny skies…” is how an article starts written by Hannah Leone and Elvia Malagon from the Chicago Tribune. The Windy City is experiencing some of the most frigid temperatures and coolest air in history. Parts of the Chicago River are now frozen due to these brutal wintry conditions. Some experts say this is the coldest the city has ever been between the sub-zero temperatures and the wind chill.

 As reported in USA Today, firefighters were called to a house fire in St. Paul, Minnesota where the air temperature was a numbing twenty-seven degrees below zero. Factor in the wind chill of fifty-two below zero and you can only imagine how difficult that type of work must be for these individuals during a time like this.

The deep arctic freeze facing many Americans this week has been alarming. The record-breaking temperatures has caused havoc on travel as well. With the onset on Frostbite occurring after just a few minutes of exposure to these conditions, many major airlines have been forced to cancel flights especially in Chicago at both Midway and O’Hare airports. Passengers, airline personnel and the aircrafts themselves are not equipped to handle temperatures, which this week have grown colder than that of Antarctica.

 While this Polar Vortex is only temporary and temperatures are expected to rise over the next few days, the inclement weather may make a return next week. However, it is not expected to be as chilly.

Remember, during times such as these to be prepared with the following tips:

For Yourself

  • Dress in at least two (if not three) layers. This includes shirts, pants and socks (tights).
  • Wear cotton and/or wool as much as you can.
  • Stay hydrated by carrying water with you.
  • Avoid alcohol as it diminishes your ability to access exactly how cold temperatures truly are.
  • Stay indoors unless necessary and limit your exposure to the cold.

For Your Home

  • Stay up to date on your local weather forecasts.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food, ready-to-drink water and any medicine. Also, don’t forget your pets’ necessities.
  • Have backup batteries readily available for radios and flashlights.
  • When using a generator and/or heater containing gasoline, propane or kerosene, only operate them outside and away from open windows or doors to prevent CO poisoning.
  • Keep an emergency kit for your home full of necessary supplies needed for you and your loved ones.

Practicing Generator Safety

  • Be sure to check with the manufacturer's product manual to gain proper understanding of how to run and maintain your generator.
  • Try and determine the amount of power you will need for your lights and appliances.
  • Ensure that your generator produces more power than what will be used. If your generator does not produce enough power to run your lights and appliances all at once, try and stagger your usage to adjust to power available. *If your equipment requires more power than what is available, it is possible to blow a fuse on the generator or damage any attached equipment.
  • To prevent emissions from drifting indoors, always place your portable generator as far as possible away from the doors and windows.
  • Try and point the generator exhaust away from any nearby people and place it downwind from your location.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors will alert your family before toxic levels are reached. Be sure that your alarm is in working order.
  • Never use generators indoors, incorrect usage can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. If you start to feel sick or lightheaded while the generator is in use, get to fresh air as soon as possible. For immediate assistance please contact your local emergency services.

Fuel Storage

  • Store fuel in an approved safety can outside of living areas in a protected area. Be sure to check with local laws that may pertain to the storage of fuel.
  • Be sure to fully seal any fuel container properly, for vapors may still linger and be ignited by a pilot light or other forms of electrical arcs.
  • Always use the recommended type of fuel for your generator. Keep in mind that propane will store longer than gasoline.
Power Up Properly
  • Never plug a generator directly to a wall outlet. This practice can harm utility workers or neighbors who are running of the same utility transformer.
  • The safest way to connect a generator to your house is to have a power transfer switch installed.
  • Using a stationary or backup/standby generator is the best way to provide backup power.

For major emergencies, please be sure to contact your local emergency services for immediate assistance.