From the ABC 7 Weather team

Polar Vortex, Record Cold, and Dangerous Wind Chill

January 7, 2014 - 11:13 AM
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The arctic invasion is here. What's causing it, and is it historic?

We've been warning you since last week that an arctic blast would chill you to the bone in D.C. this morning, but just how bad did it get?

Unofficial Morning Lows

Temperatures plunged into the single digits across the area, but it was the wind chill that was painfully cold. Here is a sampling of the coldest unofficial readings I could find across the region.

Wind Chill Temperatures

Keep in mind that elevation played a role in the -40s in Garrett County, Maryland. So, were records broken as advertised? Yes, and No. Here is a look at the standing records before today:

This morning, Reagan National dropped down to 7 degrees and the automated observing system at Dulles Airport dipped to 1 degree at 7:32a.m. which breaks the old record of 8 degrees set in 1988. A few notes on both of these... The record on the climatology report for D.C. was actually set back in 1884, when the Weather Bureau took observations on G Street, not at Reagan National.

It's the coldest air we've experienced since 1996 when we all did "The Macarena" dance to keep us warm. (Thanks to my colleague Bob Van Dillen at HLN for this reminder). It had our own ABC7 Good Morning Washington Storm Chaser7 Meteorologist Eileen Whelan all bundled up in the elements this morning reporting how the brutal cold made her face feel "stiff" and showing us how to dress in these extremes.

Eileen loving life this morning

So WHY is it so cold you ask? I'm sure you've heard the term "Polar Vortex" by now. It is trending on social media and has been misused over and over the past few days. In the most simplistic terms, the polar vortex is a circulation in the upper atmosphere that originates near the poles. This is NOT a new term for meteorologists.

The polar vortex has always been there. In the winter time, it can become very strong and will sink south from the pole. Right now, the polar vortex is over the northern Great Lakes and a "piece" of it entered the northern U.S. It is he winds that circulate around this atmospheric phenomenon that help draw arctic air into this U.S. where millions of people live. Here is a great graphic put together from the National Weather Service in New York to help explain.

Polar Vortex Explainer from the NWS in New York City

And you can click on this link if you really want to "weather geek-out" with me.

The cold air has made its way across the entire eastern half of the U.S, including Florida. This is a big deal because it hasn't happened to this extent in almost two decades. People have died from this cold in the Midwest where the wind chill has been -40 to -50+ Records have been broken this morning from New York to Alabama. Here's a look at preliminary numbers.

Record Lows this Morning

Why did the Polar Vortex get so far south? It is likely due to natural variations in the atmosphere, and we can't peg a singular event on climate change, if you're wondering. If you hate the cold, we're stuck in it today with a wind chill advisory through 6p.m. for the metro area. We should finally get above freezing by Thursday. Believe it or not, temps will actually warm above average this weekend.

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