What’s with this long cold snap? A meteorologist explains

WASHINGTON — What’s causing this bitter blast of extreme cold?

It’s related to the polar vortex, something meteorologists have known about for a long time, but many of us heard about for the first time last winter.

By the end of 2014, the term had been so overused that it was added to Lake Superior State University’s annual list of words to be banished.

The polar vortex is a batch of air in the upper levels of the atmosphere that spins above the North Pole (there’s another polar vortex that hangs out above the South Pole).

Sometimes it expands and pushes extra-chilly air into our region, and that’s what’s happening now.

“Basically, this push of arctic air is making its way pretty far south, and that’s allowing us to get as cold as we’re getting,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Chris Strong tells WTOP. “This is not your typical Washington winter weather, but we do get it from time to time.”

Strong says what we’re feeling is not the polar vortex itself, but extremely frigid air influenced by it.

The National Weather Service has more facts about the polar vortex on its website.

If you’re fed up with the cold, keep your fingers crossed that winter is winding down.

“Spring comes toward the third week of March,” Strong reminded us with a laugh.

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