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josie's avatar

Is "Polar Vortex" a new term to stoke up weather hysteria?

Asked by josie (22932 points ) January 6th, 2014

I live in the Great Lakes area. For the first time since I was a teenager, it got really, really cold, and tomorrow is expected to be quite cold as well.

Last time it got really cold around here, the weather experts referred to a “Frigid Arctic Air Mass”. Sounds reasonable.

But I guess that is just not scary enough anymore.

Last night, and this morning, they referred to it as a “Polar Vortex”.

Now that sounds plenty scary. Enough to make a Global Warming Cassandra give two thumbs up. Are the halcyon days of the Frigid Arctic Air Mass gone for good? Are we now destined to be doomed by the dreaded Polar Vortex? What will they call it twenty years from now?

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29 Answers

chyna's avatar

20 years from now it will be called a “Solar Ice Stream”.

Rarebear's avatar

No, but it is a cool term.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It just hit 1 here. Vortex or not it’s f’ing cold.

Kropotkin's avatar

No. The term has been in use in the scientific literature for decades. A simple search using google’s ngram viewer will confirm this.

Wikipedia’s earliest article on polar vortices dates from 2005.

In answer to your question: It was a polar vortex 20 years ago, it’s a polar vortex today, and it will still be called a polar vortex in 20 years from now.

And what exactly is scary about “polar vortex”? Are you scared of scientific terms?

The premise of your question is wrong—as always. Your own pet hypothesis as to why the term is being used is wrong—shockingly.

Also, had you read my previous response to you you might have understood a little as to why you’re experiencing this polar vortex in the first place.

josie's avatar

@Kropotkin

So are you saying that the fabulous and attention getting term “Polar Vortex” was substituted for the old tried and true and mildly benign “Frigid Arctic Air Mass” around 2005, and I simply was not paying attention until now?

The fact is, that could be true. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention.

But speaking personally, I only heard the about the ominous “Polar Vortex” until the recent weather forecasts.

So I am not clear about something. Is the “Polar Vortex” something new and completely different, and the “Frigid Arctic Air Mass” obsolete and gone?

Or are they the same thing, just a name change?

I did read your response on the linked thread. When you said it was not well understood, I just figured I would not understand it either.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

An Artic Air Mass rides the jet stream down out of Canada when the jet stream dips down South. A Polar Vortex gets pushed out of the Artic by a warm air mass North of It. It drives the cold down to us. Either way it’s friggin cold.

chyna's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe “Friggin’ cold” sums it up so much better.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@chyna My temperature is dropping like crazy. It went from 10 F to 0 F in the last half hour.

chyna's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Brrr, it’s zero here as well.

tom_g's avatar

What’s with this whole “organic chemistry” thing? Is this a new term used to get people to buy more organic foods?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@chyna That’s brutal. You’re not used to that. I hope your plants and animals are okay too. Stay warm and safe lady. And watch the roads tomorrow.

Kropotkin's avatar

@josie They’re both in use. One has not mysteriously supplanted the other.

The simple explanation is that journalists have latched on to the scientific terminology—because of the severity of the weather, and an attempt to explain the recent cold snap in technical terms.

Polar vortex is not “ominous”. It is there all the time—it’s permanent.

josie's avatar

@Kropotkin

It is not ominous to be sure. But I bet it has appeared in the climate “narrative” because it sounds more ominous than Arctic Air Mass.
Can’t prove that, but I would bet on it. Thus, I think it is propaganda, not a sincere attempt to get the science right.
Anyway, like the folks above say, you can say whatever, it is fucking cold out.

SavoirFaire's avatar

A polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale cyclone located near one or both of a planet’s geographical poles. The Arctic vortex in the northern hemisphere has two centers, one near Baffin Island and the other over northeast Siberia (Wiki). When the centers of these vortices move, they shift large frigid arctic air masses southward, causing particularly low temperatures. Note that this has happened before, notably during the Winter 1985 Arctic outbreak. All the same terms were used back then as well.

Seek's avatar

@tom_g

If you make me choke on one more thing I swear to god…

ETpro's avatar

Yeah, @josie it isn’t a new term, as @Kropotkin notes, but it’s newly adopted by the popular press. I remember -43 °F (-41.7 °C) and wind chills of 50°F to 60°F below back when we lived in Minnesota in the mid 1980s. This particular “Polar Vortex” isn’t as bad as that one was, but the media just didn’t call it that back then. I think the term is very descriptive, though. Otherwise, how could Atlanta, GA be colder then Anchorage, AK?

Kropotkin's avatar

@josie So, by the media using an established and descriptively accurate scientific term—that’s been in use for decades in the scientific literature—the media is really trying to manipulate people’s emotions, and not trying to get the science right. Gotcha.

elbanditoroso's avatar

If it was designed to create hysteria, wouldn’t it be the bi-polar vortex?

elbanditoroso's avatar

And then there’s the East European variant, which had its own effects:

link

tom_g's avatar

Wait! @josie was right. I just found this newspaper article.

Kropotkin's avatar

@tom_g It’s funny how the parody is only a little more absurd than the actual rhetoric. Unless @josie is fooling all of us….

glacial's avatar

A vortex is simply a fluid in a spinning motion. In physics (and meteorology by extension), it’s not a scary word, it is just descriptive. But the media sees a word like “vortex” and seizes the opportunity to pump up the sensationalism – so they produce scary music, a snazzy, animated graphic, and the vague sense that you’re about to experience a sharknado.

The term isn’t new. But the media are idiots, and their goal is to catch the interest of viewers who don’t know anything about this stuff, so they present it like it’s the new scary thing. It’s the media who are injecting the panic, not scientists.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@glacial has this correct. I can hardly even watch the evening news with out constantly picking up on what I describe as “subtle B.S.” that they layer cleverly into normal every day stories. They do it, we all know it. Most of us here probably don’t even watch the news anymore because it’s time we’ll never get back. Many people watching the news are like:“polar vortex?! whoa man that sounds gnarly” Then they proceed to keep watching.

mattbrowne's avatar

We are doomed if all the self-appointed climate experts watching Fox only succeed in casting doubt about the real global warming threat whenever there’s frost in winter.

Check out the Wikipedia article on polar vortex. There’s a nice picture from 1985. The article was created long before January 2014.

mattbrowne's avatar

Great article, @ETpro !

wildpotato's avatar

Here’s an easy to understand two minute video on how the polar vortex is affected by global warming.

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