What is a Polar Vortex, WIll it Develop in Winter 2018-2019?

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

In recent years, the polar vortex up North was to blame for some of the most severe and lasting winter weather. Though the vortex was stable and contained in early December there were some concerns about whether it would stay that way come the end of the month and early January, The Washington Post reported.

The polar vortex is an area of low pressure as well as cold air that sits near the North and South Poles of the globe at all times, according to the National Weather Service. The polar vortex is always there, but during the winter it can get stronger and during the summer weaker.

It can also undergo changes that cause it to expand, and when this happens in the Northern Hemisphere the cold air near the pole travels down via the jet stream, according to the NWS. When this happens, the cold air makes its way to areas of the country that don't usually see such cold temperatures. It can also spread across parts of Europe and Asia bringing cold air there as well.

A climate researcher, Judah Cohen, monitors the progress and any changes in the predictions of the polar vortex each day and publishes updates to his Twitter account. As of Tuesday, he said the predictions showed that, "For now this is more for entertainment purposes than predicting our #weather but GFS predicting the #PolarVortex to split into three different vortices to start the new year, this could be very interesting."

While it's still early to make solid predictions about the new year or weather happening at the end of the month the model can still lend some insight into what the winter may turn into. There are also differences in the predictions between the United States model and the European model used to predict such occurrences.

The polar vortex, that happens tens of thousands of feet up into the atmosphere, is a natural occurrence that only recently got a name and became a popular explanation for winter weather, though forecasters have been keeping an eye on it for decades, according to the NWS.

The winter weather outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for this coming winter season actually calls for a winter that has slightly above normal temperatures in much of the northern and the western portions of the country. Elsewhere the winter is expected to have above average precipitation.