It Was So Cold That . . .

January 29, 2016
Polar Vortex

A Polar Vortex.


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It's been a cold one! Take Saturday, January 4. The the Earth’s orbit around the Sun put the globe the closest it gets to the Sun each year.

During the next two days, it was so cold that …

It was so very cold on January 6! (shiver)

  • Wind chills brought temperatures in parts of the Midwest to -70˚F! Without the winds, temperatures were a balmy -30˚F in parts of Minnesota and North Dakota.
  • An Arctic vortex—yes, air that normally lurks around the North Pole—swirled its way around the Midwest and headed toward the East Coast.
  • Americans got to watch flash-frozen football players in a Wildcard playoff. Not surprisingly, San Francisco withstood the cold and won. To quote Mark Twain, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer day in San Francisco.”

A polar vortex – when Arctic air comes south. Click to enlarge.

  • The roaring booms of frost quakes awakened Canadians. These frost quakes - or cryoseism, are caused by water seeping into the soil and then freezing so quickly that they cause the earth to shake with loud booms. They are common on glaciers, not Southern Canada.
  • Arctic snowy owls, (Harry Potter’s owl) invaded the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, and were even seen as far south as Florida. When an Arctic bird feels at home in Florida – it’s too darn cold.
  • While owls were flying around, thousands of air flights were grounded. Driving, when possible, was a frigid nightmare.

To quote meteorologist Ryan Maue, who watched it safely from Tallahassee, Florida, “If you're under 40 (years old), you've not seen this stuff before.”

Remember, in previous blogs, the Old Farmer’s Almanac noted that the Arctic air this summer was the coldest on record. The amount of polar sea ice in September was 60% greater than it had been last year. Normally the Arctic has 90 days with temperatures above freezing but this year it had less than 50!

This summer the Arctic sea ice was 60% greater than last year, but still below the 30 year average.

Winter is when the cold polar air masses expand south. This year the air that was swirling south was intensely cold. So bundle up and stay safe.

Also, if conditions were crazy, share it here with us. We are all (shivering) in it together.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.