The Polar Vortex

Frozen water falls reflect the cold temperatures in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Frozen water falls reflect the recent Arctic temperatures (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

No matter where you live, chances are you’ve been affected by a phenomenon called the polar vortex.  This unwelcome whirling dervish has been spinning across the United States spreading some of the coldest weather endured in over two decades.  But it’s not just the cold weather that is being circulated around by this vortex, we’re also observing wild roller coaster fluctuations in temperatures, ranging up to 40o variations within a 24 hour period.  Many of us are wondering what this anomaly is, and what is it up to?

Even with blankets, the dogs would rather not be outside! in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Even with blankets, the dogs would rather not be outside! (photo by: Ged Diemer)

Actually, this erratic weather pattern was formed by something that has always existed within several of the semi-permanent weather systems spread across the Earth. The polar vortex is an area of low pressure (up to 600 miles/1000 kilometers in circumference) located in the layer of atmosphere known as the troposphere (the lowest, densest layer of atmosphere-the one we live in).  First recognized in the late 1800’s, this circumpolar whirl is situated near either end of our planet’s geographical poles; in North America it is usually centered near Hudson Bay, in northern Canada.

When the going gets tough . . . in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

When the going gets tough . . . (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Described as a large mass of cold that steadily builds up over the North Pole, the vortex is moved south when it hitches a ride on the shifting jet stream.   Once it departs from the plane (All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I’m standing here outside your door, I hate to wake you up to say good bye…) this harbinger of chill circulates around your part of the world; across the central and eastern U.S., embracing ice and frigid wind with each pirouette.  Yet, just when you thought you couldn’t take another day of excruciatingly glacial temperatures, in twirls an amazing, seemingly tropical, warm front.

Burying your head in the snow won't make it go away in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Burying your head in the snow won’t make it go away (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Alas, the temporary warm spell is not Mother Nature answering your prayers, rather it is an occurrence caused by the frosty whirlwind’s northward relocation.  As The Big Chill is magnetically drawn back to its polar homestead, the resulting movements allow temperate air to be swooped up behind (sort of like a race car drafting).  But don’t break out the shades and suntan lotion just yet, as this counter-clockwise spinner can easily spiral right back into your state with another blast of bitter cold as fast as you can say “Polar Vortex”.

The chickens enjoying their heat lamp in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The chickens are enjoying their heat lamp (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Seriously though, these sub zero temperatures require us to use common-sense and necessary precautions for ourselves and our pets.  Remember, when venturing outside to bundle up and keep exposure to a minimum.  And protect any animals that live outdoors!  We’ve had a heat lamp on in our small chicken house to keep the hens warm and prevent their water from freezing, and woolen blankets are kept on the horses during the coldest periods, even though they have naturally heavy winter coats and a warm barn to go in.

Icicles along a river bank in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Icicles along a river bank (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Like flipping a switch, the constant warming and freezing variations are a scary trend, and I worry how some of my less established plants, shrubs and trees will fare. I’m concerned about our non-hibernating wildlife as well, and the difficulties they must be experiencing during these extreme conditions.  I understand that the polar vortex is strongest during the winter, usually weakening and disappearing by the summer, but I really hope this recent visit from the Arctic is as short-lived as predicted.        


  1. Thanks for the info- I have never heard of Polar Vortex! The pictures are gorgeous- even if it was 5 degrees!

  2. Al Roker mentioned the Polar Vortex on the news tonight and I actually knew what he was talking about thanks to you. My family was VERY, VERY impressed!

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