By Bob Valen
Weather Watcher 

Look, up in the sky, it's a polar vortex!


It caused a great uproar in the news media and with those living in parts of Canada and the U.S. The Upper Midwest felt the effects of the ever-present Polar Vortex. TV news reporters stood outside showing viewers just how cold the air was — frozen things were displayed for all to see. People shot video of themselves holding frozen shirts, pants or their wet, frozen hair. More importantly, the TV reports and newspaper articles addressed the health consequences of truly cold air. Add some wind to that cold air and the hazard factor goes up.

The Polar Vortex is an atmospheric occurrence that is always in place at both poles — north and south. They are at their strongest during the winter. It’s a mass of low-pressure, cold air in the upper atmosphere that continuously circulates. Over the North Pole, it moves counter-clockwise. A strong, circulating jet stream helps to keep this mass of air in the earth’s upper latitudes. It’s believed that the term “Polar Vortex” first appeared in an 1853 issue of Eliakim Littell’s “Living Age,” a weekly literary periodical published in Boston.

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This most recent appearance of the Polar Vortex was brought about as the Polar Jet Stream weakened somewhat, allowing a part of this massive cold air to move. That cold-air mass dropped down over a part of Canada and the Upper Midwest of the United States, bringing considerably colder temperatures. Deaths were reported across several states, directly related to this weather event.

Looking into our near future, here’s what the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is telling us we may expect for the next few months. For February, March and April, the CPC is showing above-normal temperatures, especially for the western portion of Washington state. For precipitation, we are in an “equal chance of normal or below normal” situation, though the whole southern portion of the state is in a “below normal” situation. Keep recording in your weather journal and we’ll see what we end up with.

For the month of January 2019, here’s what we experienced weather-wise. At the home weather station, we had a high temperature of 47˚F on the 4th on the month and a low of 20.2˚F on the 28th. The mean temperature was 31.8˚F. The all-time high for January occurred in 1971 at 57˚F, while the all-time low was a -17˚F in 1950. The all-time mean is 26.8˚F, some 5˚F difference from January 2019. I measured 3.2 inches of new snowfall with both rainfall and snow water equivalent (SWE) of 1.03 inches. To be fair, I missed about 10 days of snow measurements, though I measured SWE that was captured. Checking our official weather station, I see they recorded 1.4 inches of snow for January 2019. The all-time precipitation mean for January is 1.06 inches, and the mean snowfall is 6.3 inches. The all-time maximum snowfall for January is 21.6 inches in 1950.

Looking skyward, our friends at EarthSky tell us, “In February, the two bright planets up before the sun are Venus (brighter) and Jupiter. Saturn is there, too, if you look closely. Mars shines in the evening sky all month. Starting in mid-February, look for Mercury low in the west as dusk gives way to darkness.” A full moon occurs on Feb. 19.


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