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What is a Polar Vortex & How Can You Protect Against It?

What is a Polar Vortex & How Can You Protect Against It? - Gobi Heat

While the winter months can make you feel like you’re living in a winter wonderland, instances arise where cold weather can suddenly shift direction and be just outright dangerous. One example of this is a polar vortex. So, what is a polar vortex, and how can you best prepare and ultimately protect against one?

What is a Polar Vortex?

To answer the question of “what is a polar vortex,” you first must be aware of the factors involved that create it. The National Weather Service describes the properties of a polar vortex in the following way:

“The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term ‘vortex’ refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream (see graphic below). This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States. The one that occurred January 2014 is similar to many other cold outbreaks that have occurred in the past, including several notable colder outbreaks in 1977, 1982, 1985 and 1989.”


You might be wondering “what is a polar vortex temperature range to expect? While the polar clouds can only form at temperatures below about -112°F, one of the lowest recorded temperatures during the January 2019 polar vortex was -31°F (Northern Illinois), with wind chills as low as -56°F in parts of the Central United States.

How to Prepare for a Polar Vortex

Although polar vortexes are not a new phenomenon and should not necessarily be cause for alarm, they are certainly not an occurrence to be taken lightly. To help you prepare for this pending coldfront, we’ve put a list together of precautions you should take if you live in an area susceptible to polar vortexes.

Dress for the Weather & Limit Your Time Outside

Ideally, you’ll want to try to stay indoors during a polar vortex, since brutally low temperatures can lead to frostbite. If you must go out, do so in, at most, 30 minute increments in extreme cold weather gear like heated clothing, which will provide you the extra essential warmth you need in the freezing and windy weather. Pay special attention to extremities like fingers, toes, your nose and ears. If you know you’ll be outside, investing in heated jacketsheated gloves, heated socks, a heated beanie and even heated base layers can make all the difference between how severely the vortex affects you.

Stay In Touch

If you must go outside alone, check in with someone to let them know your plans. Polar vortex related deaths have occurred in the past from freezing, so always make sure you’ve got someone watching that knows to check in and take action if they don’t hear from you.

Check Your Heating Reserves

Does the gas or oil tank need to be filled? Do you have enough pellets and firewood to get you through the polar vortex? If not, call your supplier right away to schedule a delivery before they are booked out too far. While you’re at it, be sure to keep heating sources such as your furnace intake and exhaust clear of ice, snow (outside) and that nothing is obstructing vents or heat sources inside. Blocking pipes and heat sources could cause a possible carbon monoxide issue, so this is a critical precaution.

Keep Your Pipes Warm

The last thing you want during a polar vortex is for your pipes to freeze and possibly burst. Help warm air reach your delicate piping system by keeping cabinet doors open and leave warm water trickling through any and all faucets.

Bring Animals Inside!

If it’s too cold outside for you, it’s probably too cold outside for them. Animals and livestock should not be exposed to extreme temperatures such as these, so give them a warm and safe place to take shelter with plenty of food and water.

Winter Car Survival Kit

Cars are great, but once bitter cold polar vortexes come to town, they face the chance of running sub par, with the possibility of batteries or engines freezing up. The National Weather Service recommends you have a winter car survival kit with you at all times in case you break down and are stuck in a car during a polar vortex.

No matter what the weather throws your way, you can always be prepared for it by taking the proper precautions and wearing the right heated gear from Gobi Heat®. Stay safe out there!