What Is A Polar Vortex? Winter Storm Jayden Slams Midwest

Severe weather conditions have slammed the Midwest with heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures.

The winter storm has brought in record-setting and life-threatening temperatures to those across the country. The National Weather Service warned that the wind chill could make it feel like minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the Midwest, bringing the threat of frostbite within minutes.

So, what is to blame for the freezing weather?—a polar vortex. This weather phenomenon is defined as a stream of cold air that normally spins around the North Pole, but gets disrupted, blasting Arctic air across parts of North America.

noaa polar vortex
A graphic depicting the polar vortex that can cause abnormally cold temperatures during the winter. NOAA

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Chenard told Reuters the term refers to the upper-level jet stream that typically circulates around both the North and South Poles, keeping the coldest air there. When that jet stream occasionally weakens and buckles, he said, it disrupts weather patterns—bumping warmer air into Alaska and pushing cold winds down into the U.S. Midwest and East Coast.

While the conditions currently reported are record-setting, polar vortexes are nothing new or out-of-the-ordinary. This time of year is actually the perfect time for this type of severe weather to occur, according to an NPR report.

"You have snow and ice cover over a large part of the Northern Hemisphere," the report read. "And so these cold air masses that have been generated over the past several weeks over the Northern climes can more easily translate south into the more Southern latitudes."

Not to worry though, the freezing temperatures look to be short-lived. Temperatures are reported to be "above normal" next week.

Though the middle of winter is the usual time for polar vortexes to occur, scientists have not concluded whether it is becoming more frequent.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter as a means of using Winter Storm Jayden to jab at global warming.

"In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder," the president tweeted. "People can't last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!"

In an article republished by Newsweek, Jennifer Francis, a visiting professor at Rutgers University, argued that global warming and polar vortexes go very much hand-in-hand.

"Symptoms of a changing climate are not always obvious or easy to understand, but their causes and future behaviors are increasingly coming into focus," Francis wrote. "And it's clear that at times, coping with global warming means arming ourselves with extra scarfs, mittens and long underwear."