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What Is This Polar Vortex Thing and Why Does It Hate Us So Much?

You can stay inside to avoid the cold, but there's no avoiding the Hoth jokes.


If you went outside in the United States today (and we wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), you might have heard everyone complaining about the “polar vortex” in between burying their faces in their coats for warmth. Because we think it’s important to know your enemy, here’s the back story of the polar vortex.

Basically, the vortex is made up of the cold winds that circulate in the air around the North Pole in a low pressure system. It’s a weather system that hangs out and keeps the arctic’s cold air circulating in the north where it belongs.

There’s also the off-chance that it’s some kind of liberal media hoax as some radio personalities would have you believe. Man, the lizard people are going to be soooo mad when they find out global warming is fake. (You know, because being cold blooded, they’d prefer the Earth to be warmer. Conspiracies!)

Sadly, no, we live in a world where we can have rising global average temperatures and occasionally feel like we live on Hoth. It’s the worst of both worlds. The polar vortex has been around for a long time and will continue to be an extant thing, even though this is the first time a lot of people are hearing about it.

Anyway, the low pressure system occasionally gets drawn down into lower regions in the Northern Hemisphere and guarantees that your tauntaun won’t even make it past the first marker with unreasonably low temperatures. That happens due to random weather conditions that cause the low pressure system to move, which means that the cold air isn’t expanding; it’s just temporarily taking a trip a little further south, which actually leaves the North Pole relatively warm.

It’s also good news for us, because it means that the vortex will eventually go back where it came from, and we’ll return to regular Earth temperatures that don’t remind us of The Empire Strikes Back or Mars.

(via CNN, image via Glen Tickle on Twitter, thanks to @DHAP24)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.