What's in a Name? On the Use and Significance of the Term “Polar Vortex”

Manney, G. L., A. Butler, Z. Lawrence, K. Wargan, and M. Santee (2023), What's in a Name? On the Use and Significance of the Term “Polar Vortex”, Geophys. Res. Lett., 49, doi:https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GL097617.

Mainstream and popular science media are rife with misunderstandings about what a “polar vortex” is. The term most aptly describes the stratospheric polar vortex, a single feature dominating the coolseason circulation from ∼15–50 km. Regional jet stream variations dominate the tropospheric circulation, which is not well-described as a polar vortex; indeed, there is no single consistent definition of a tropospheric polar vortex in the literature. Stratospheric polar vortex disturbances profoundly influence extreme weather events, including cold air outbreaks (CAOs). How the stratospheric polar vortex affects tropospheric jets, whose local excursions drive CAOs, is not fully understood. Public-facing parts of publications describing research on this topic are not always clear about how the “polar vortex” is defined; greater clarity could improve communications both within the community and with non-specialist audiences.

PDF of Publication: 
Download from publisher's website.
Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)
EOS Aura
Funding Sources: 
NSF Climate and Large Scale Dynamics