If you haven’t heard of the polar vortex, then you’re not alone. It’s a term I’ve only just heard for the first time this week. It seems though, that we’re going to hear more and more about it in the future because it’s the cause of some incredibly cold weather that’s predicted to hit the UK this winter.
What exactly is the polar vortex?
Get ready, here comes the science: there are two polar vortices, one above the arctic and one above the antarctic. In winter, the air high above the poles becomes really cold. The temperature farther away from the poles, is so drastically warmer that the resulting difference in pressure causes incredibly strong winds where the warm and cold air meet. These winds form a cyclone, hence polar vortex, around the pocket of cold air, keeping it neatly in place above its pole.
Why are we hearing about it?
Well, this is usually what happens and the poles stay nicely cold and the rest of us stay nicely warm(ish), but sometimes the difference in temperatures between the cold poles and the warmer latitudes is less dramatic. This results in weak winds surrounding the pocket of cold polar air and causes the shape of the vortex to become distorted. It’s this distortion that brings cold snaps to countries such as the UK and has us all digging around our pants drawer for our thermal undies. There’s a great, much more scientific explanation of this over at the Hong Kong Observatory.
What causes the winds of the polar vortex to weaken and leak cold onto us poor Brits?
It is thought that climate change is to blame, although there are others who disagree. To explain why climate change is likely to be the cause, check out this video made by the White House during the last polar vortex event in 2014.
I don’t have any thermal undies, what can I do?
If climate change is the cause of polar vortex distortion, then you should probably buy some, as it’s likely going to get worse. You may want to improve the fuel efficiency of your home too. Check out our recent post on draught-proofing, a good place to start if you want to warm your home up. Doing so will not only keep you warmer when the polar vortex pops by, but you’ll be doing your bit to slow down climate change by reducing your fuel usage too.