What is the ‘Polar Vortex’?

During this period of extremely cold weather—don’t forget to check on family, neighbors and especially, the elderly.

“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. 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.

There are several things the polar vortex is NOT. Polar vortexes are not something new. The term “polar vortex” has only recently been popularized, bringing attention to a weather feature that has always been present. It is also not a feature that exists at the Earth’s surface. Weather forecasters examine the polar vortex by looking at conditions tens of thousands of feet up in the atmosphere; however, when we feel extremely cold air from the Arctic regions at Earth’s surface, it is sometimes associated with the polar vortex. This is not confined to the United States. Portions of Europe and Asia also experience cold surges connected to the polar vortex. By itself, the only danger to humans is the magnitude of how cold temperatures will get when the polar vortex expands, sending Arctic air southward into areas that are not typically that cold.

In short, there is no cause to be alarmed when you hear about the polar vortex, but you should be prepared for colder temperatures. Check the forecast for your area on weather.gov to ensure you are dressed appropriately. It is also a good idea to check the items in your home and car emergency kits at the beginning of each winter season to ensure you are prepared for any type of hazardous winter weather.” Source; National Weather Service. Download a Wind Chill Brochure from the NWS here. And a winter storm Preparedness Guide.

“Injuries Related to Cold” Source: National Weather Service; Winter Storm Preparedness Guide.

• 50% happen to people over 60 years old.

• More than 75% happen to males.

• About 20% occur in the home.

Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20° Fahrenheit (F) will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you must wait for help, slowly rewarm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.

Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. It can kill. For those who survive, there are likely to be lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Take the person’s temperature. If below 95°F, seek medical care immediately!

If Medical Care is Not Available, warm the person slowly, starting with the body core. Warming the arms and legs first drives cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure. If necessary, use your body heat to help. Get the person into dry clothing and wrap in a warm blanket covering the head and neck. Do not give the person alcohol, drugs, coffee or any hot beverage or food. Warm broth is the first food to offer.” Source: National Weather Service; Winter Storm Preparedness Guide.”