Weather & Natural Disasters

What is a polar vortex? (And when is it going away?)

Sarah Wolfe
A man and his dog contend with blowing snow in Brooklyn following a snow storm that left up to 8 inches of snow on January 3, 2014 in New York.
Getty Images

Move over, haboob.

There's a new weather phenomenon in town, and it's largely responsible for the record-breaking cold that left most of the U.S. quite miserable Monday.

Twenty-six states were under wind-chill warnings or watches, with actual temperatures as low as 36-below zero reported in the Upper Midwest and wind chills as low as 60-below.

CHI-BERIA…. And other front pages documenting wicked cold that's dominating US.

Meteorologists said a "polar vortex" was to blame.

Say what?

Think of a polar vortex as a "polar cyclone," a great, swirling pool of extremely cold air located tens of thousands of feet in the atmosphere.

Here's what it looks like when the polar vortex expands to the US

Though normally confined to the Arctic, this polar vortex is catching everyone's attention because it has dipped so low into North America — plunging millions of Americans and Canadians into a deep freeze.

NOAA scientists have suggested that climate change may be responsible for a weakening of the polar vortex.

JetBlue halts NYC, Boston & NJ flights

"The last five years have been the warmest recorded period in the Arctic and climate conditions over the Arctic cannot be ruled out as influencing weather in some sub-Arctic regions," NOAA noted.

A weakened polar vortex is more likely to break apart and spill cold air farther south.

Freezing? Look up, here's why. Image Shows Entry of the Polar Vortex into the Northern U.S.

A similar phenomenon in 2009 drove temperatures in the Midwest down to 22-below zero.

The good news? This deep freeze won't be here for long.

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Temperatures are expected to climb back into the sane range by Tuesday, with 30s and 40s forecast in many northern areas by the end of the week.

Hopefully, that means we will never have to see horrors like this again.

Or at least not for another few years:

Chicago's cold winds froze this damp T-shirt in a matter of minutes