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The blast of Arctic weather headed for the United States this weekend could be a first sign of still worse things to come this winter, with signs that a circular low-pressure system of swirling winds that normally keeps frigid air locked up at the North Pole has been disrupted and split into smaller parts.
The disruption in this counterclockwise-spinning beast, called the polar vortex, is thought to be caused in part by a warm summer over the Arctic and a relatively cold fall over Siberia. The result for the United States and northern Europe? A severe winter lasting throughout February and possibly into March.
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The weather models suggested that the disruptions would follow the pattern of polar vortex disruptions seen during the northern winter last year, which resulted in freezing weather across the United States in December and January, and a severe cold snap in March over the United Kingdom.
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"This pattern looks much more active, [with] more winter type storms and Arctic outbreaks — I think I would attribute it to definitely being a polar vortex disruption, because it is very consistent with what we've seen in the past," Cohen said.
The northern polar vortex is a fast-flowing stream of air that circles the North Pole in the upper parts of the atmosphere, known as the stratosphere, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) above the surface.
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A similar polar vortex exists over the South Pole, but it is the northern polar vortex that can bring severe winter weather to the United States and Europe.
When the northern polar vortex is strong, Cohen explained, it keeps most of the air cooled by the Arctic in the polar region, resulting in mild winter temperatures in the middle latitudes of the eastern United States, and in...
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