Polar Vortex

2014 North American cold wave

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It has been suggested that 2013 North American cold wave be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2014.

2014 North American cold wave

GOES-13 2 Jan 2014 1745z satellite.png

A GOES 13 satellite image of the severe winter weather on January 2

January 2, 2014

Lowest pressure
939 hPa (27.7 inHg)[1]

$5 billion (United States)[2]


Areas affected
United States

The 2014 North American cold wave was an extreme weather event affecting parts of Canada and the United States east of the Rocky Mountains,[5] extending as far south as Central Florida,[6] and Northeastern Mexico. An Arctic cold front, initially associated with a nor’easter on January 2, tracked across Canada and the United States, resulting in heavy snowfall. Temperatures fell to unprecedented levels due to the front, and consequently low temperature records were broken across the U.S., leading to business, school, and road closures, as well as mass flight cancellations.[7][8][9][10] Records of meteorological data have been kept by the United States Weather Bureau since it was established in 1870. Altogether more than 200 million people were affected, in an area ranging from Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and extending south to include roughly 187 million Americans in the Continental United States.[11]

Contents [hide]
1 Meteorology 1.1 Sudden stratospheric warming
1.2 Jet stream

2 Record cold temperatures 2.1 United States
2.2 Canada

3 Related extreme weather 3.1 United States
3.2 Canada
3.3 Mexico
3.4 Europe

4 Impact 4.1 United States
4.2 Canada
4.3 Ecological

5 Government response 5.1 United States
5.2 Canada

6 Possible role of anthropogenic climate change
7 See also
8 References


The polar vortex

Map of a compact blob over the Arctic

The typical polar vortex configuration in November, 2013…

Map of a blobs spreading from the Arcitc

…A wavy polar vortex on January 5, 2014.

Sudden stratospheric warming[edit]

The breakdown of the polar vortex and subsequent southward movement of tropospheric Arctic air was caused by sudden stratospheric warming (SSW),[12] a phenomenon discovered in 1952. NASA states, “A major midwinter SSW event occurs when polar stratospheric temperatures increase by at least 25 in one week, and the zonal-mean zonal wind at or near 10 (at about 30 km altitude) reverses direction and becomes easterly north of 60° N.”[13]

Jet stream[edit]

An initial contrast formed between cold air in Canada and mild winter temperatures in the United States.[7] The Met Office said the pressure difference caused significant winds where the air masses met, strengthening the jet stream, which went off-course and brought the cold air south. Winds led to bitter wind chills, worsening the impact of the record cold temperatures.[7] New Scientist magazine reported the weak jet stream as being the cause rather than a polar vortex, as there is an altitude difference.[14]

Record cold temperatures[edit]

Locations throughout the U.S. and Canada experienced record cold temperatures (since 1870, when data began to be collected by the U.S. Weather Bureau).[15] Both the Midwestern United States and most of Canada had temperatures colder than the North Pole, which had a low of −20 °F (−29 °C), and the South Pole, which had a morning low of −6 °F (−21 °C).[16] On January 7, much of the eastern Canadian prairies and Ontario experienced day-long temperatures colder than the concurrent equatorial summer temperatures on Mars,[17] on which the rover “Curiosity” measured a high of −29 °C (−20 °F).[18] However, in most of Canada, those temperatures did not set records.

United States[edit]

Chicago on January 7, 2014, with vapor rising off Lake Michigan

Vapor rising from the Chicago River on January 7, 2014

Ice formations on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia
The area of very cold air covered over most of the Midwestern and eastern U.S., and extended as far south as Tampa, Florida and Houston, Texas. Dozens of cold-weather records were broken, with the most southerly areas setting the most records.

On January 5, 2014, Green Bay, Wisconsin was −18 °F (−28 °C). The previous record low for this day was set in 1979.[19]

On January 6, 2014, Babbitt, Minnesota was the coldest place in the country at −37 °F (−38 °C). The cold air reached as far as Dallas, which experienced a low temperature of 16 °F (−9 °C).

The low temperature at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago was −16 °F (−27 °C) on January 6. The previous record low for this day was −14 °F (−26 °C), set in 1884 and tied in 1988.[9][20] The National Weather Service adopted the Twitter hashtag #Chiberia (a portmanteau of Chicago and Siberia) for the cold wave coverage in Chicago[21] and local media adopted the term as well.[22][23] In spite of cold temperatures and stiff winds which exceeded the 23 mph wind and -23 air temperature when Chicago set its all-time wind chill record of −82 °F (−63 °C) in 1983, Chicago did not break the record because the NWS had adopted a new wind chill formula in 2001.[24]

The average daily temperature for the United States on January 6 was calculated to be 17.9 °F (−7.8 °C). The last time the average for the country was below 18 was January 13, 1997; the 17-year gap was the longest on record.[25]

On January 7, at least 49 record lows for the day were set across the country.[26] On the night of January 6–7, Detroit hit a low temperature of −14 °F (−26 °C) breaking the records for both dates. The high temperature of −1 °F (−18 °C) on January 7 was only the sixth day in 140 years of records to have a subzero high.[27] On January 7, 2014, the temperature in Central Park in New York City was 4 °F (−16 °C). The previous record low for the day was set in 1896, twenty-five years after records began to be collected by the government.[28] Pittsburgh bottomed out at −9 °F (−23 °C), setting a new record low on January 6–7. Cleveland also set a record low on those dates at −11 °F (−24 °C). Temperatures in Atlanta fell to 6 °F (−14 °C), breaking the old record for January 7 of 10 °F (−12 °C) which was set in 1970. Temperatures fell to −6 °F (−21 °C) at Brasstown Bald, Georgia.[29] The cold air reached as far as Tampa, which experienced temperatures as low as 24 °F (−4 °C).


The coldest parts of Canada were the eastern prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories. However, only Southern Ontario set temperature records.

During most of the cold wave, Winnipeg was the coldest major city in Canada. On January 6, it reached a low of −37 °C (−35 °F), while on January 7, the low was −36 °C (−33 °F). On both days, the temperature did not go above −25 °C (−13 °F). Other parts of southern Manitoba recorded lows of below −40 °C (−40 °F).[30] On January 5, the daily high in Saskatoon was −28.4 °C (−19.1 °F) with a wind chill of −46 °C (−51 °F).[31]

On January 7, 2014, a cold temperature record was set in Hamilton, Ontario: −24 °C (−11 °F);[32] London, Ontario was −25 °C (−13 °F).

Related extreme weather[edit]

Snow cover on January 6, 2014

Snow cover on January 7, 2014
Heavy snowfall or rainfall occurred on the leading edge of the weather pattern, which travelled all the way from the American Plains and Canadian prairie provinces to the East Coast. Strong winds prevailed throughout the freeze, making the temperature feel at least ten degrees colder than it actually was. In addition to rainfall, snowfall, ice, and blizzard warnings, some places along the Great Lakes were also under wind warnings.[33]

United States[edit]

In the U.S., The Weather Channel unofficially dubbed the first snow event “Hercules”.[34] On January 3, Boston had a temperature of 2 °F (−17 °C) with a −20 °F (−29 °C) wind chill, and over 7 inches (180 mm) of snow. Boxford, Massachusetts recorded 23.8 inches (600 mm). Fort Wayne, Indiana had a record low of −10 °F (−23 °C). In Michigan, over 11 inches (280 mm) of snow fell outside Detroit and temperatures around the state were near or below 0 °F (−18 °C). New Jersey had over 10 inches (250 mm) of snow, and schools and government offices closed.[35]

On January 5, a storm system crossed the Great Lakes region. In Chicago, where 5 inches (13 cm) to 7 inches (180 mm) of snow had fallen, O’Hare and Midway Airports cancelled 1200 flights.[36] Freezing rain caused a Delta Air Lines flight to skid off a taxiway and into a snowbank at John F. Kennedy International Airport, with no injuries.[37] The storms associated with the Arctic front caused numerous road closures and flight delays and cancellations.

Snowfall was lighter farther south, with between 0.5 and 2 inches (1.3 and 5.1 cm) of snow falling in Tennessee.[38]

The severe Arctic air outbreak sent temperatures in New York City plummeting to a record low of 4 °F (−16 °C) on January 7, which broke a 116-year record. The cold came after days of unseasonably warm temperatures, with daytime highs dropping as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.[39] Also on January 7, the day after a record-setting −16 °F (−27 °C), Chicago recorded −10 °F (−23 °C). Tom Kines of AccuWeather said that at the same time as Chicago was reaching its low temperature, the South Pole had a temperature of −6 °F (−21 °C). Embarrass, Minnesota had the coldest temperature in the lower 48 states with −35 °F (−37 °C), and in the Eastern United States, only south Florida was above freezing.[40] Due in part to the southern extent of the cold wave, on January 7, locations in all 50 states recorded a temperature below freezing.[41]

In the U.S., The Weather Channel unofficially dubbed the Atlanta, Georgia snow event of January 29, 2014 “Leon”.[42]


In Canada, the front brought rain and snow events to most of Canada on January 5 and 6, which became the second nor’easter in less than a week in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.[43] This weather event ended when the front pushed through, bringing the bitterly cold temperatures with it. Southwestern Ontario experienced a second round of heavy snow in the wake of the front throughout January 6 and 7 and part of January 8 due to lake-effect snow.[44] The Northwest Territories and Nunavut did not experience record-breaking cold, but had a record-breaking blizzard on January 8, when the freeze further south was coming to an end.

Much of Ontario and Quebec were under blizzard warnings.[45] Many highways in Southwestern Ontario were closed by heavy lake-effect snowfall. Local temperature in Montreal has only reached -24 °C with windchill factor overnight from January 6 to 7, however the same locations in Quebec have experienced up to -34.5 °C on the night of January 2 to 3 and up to -41 °C on the night of December 25 to 26, which were also nearing records, yet seemingly unrelated to the cold wave.

Nearly all parts of Canada under the deep freeze experienced steady winds around 30 to 40 kilometres per hour (19 to 25 mph). In some areas along the north shore of Lake Erie, those winds reached 70 km/h (43 mph), with gusts as high as 100 km/h (62 mph).[33] This brought local wind chill levels as low as −48 °C (−54 °F)[46]

Several Ontario locations along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Valley experienced cryoseisms or frost quakes.[47]


Cold air rushing into the Gulf of Mexico behind the front created a Tehuano wind event, with northerly winds from the Bay of Campeche to the Gulf of Tehuantepec in Mexico reaching 41 kn (76 km/h; 47 mph).[48] Saltillo, in the North-East of the country, registered freezing drizzle and a minimum of −6 °C (21 °F).[49]


Main article: Cyclone Anne (2014)#Christina

The first winter storm associated with the cold wave crossed the Atlantic and emerged as a European windstorm, impacting the British Isles. The storm was named “Christina” by the Free University Berlin.[50]


The extreme cold weather grounded thousands of flights and seriously affected other forms of transport. Many power companies in the affected areas asked their customers to conserve electricity.

United States[edit]

Evan Gold of weather intelligence firm Planalytics called the storm and cold the worst weather event for the economy since Superstorm Sandy just over a year earlier.[51] 200 million people were affected, and Gold calculated the impact at $5 billion.[51] $50 to $100 million was lost by airlines which cancelled a total of 20,000 flights after the storm began on January 2.[51] JetBlue took a major hit because 80 percent of its flights go through New York City or Boston.[51] Tony Madden of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said with so many schools closed, parents had to stay home from work or work from home. Even the ones who could work from home, Madden said, might not have done as much.[51] Not included in the total were the insurance industry and government costs for salting roads, overtime and repairs.[citation needed]

Gold said some industries benefitted from the storm and cold, including video on demand, restaurants which offered delivery services and convenience stores.[51] People also used gift cards to buy online.[51] Hopper Research of Boston observed that searches for flights to Cancun, Mexico increased by about half in northern cities.[52]

Over a dozen deaths were attributed to the cold wave, with dangerous roadway conditions and extreme cold cited as causes.[19][53][54]

At least 3,600 flights were cancelled on January 6, and several thousand were cancelled over the preceding weekend.[7] Further delays were caused by the weather at airports that did not possess de-icing equipment.[55] At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the jet fuel and deicing fluids froze,[11] according to American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller[56]

Amtrak cancelled scheduled passenger rail service having connections through Chicago, due to heavy snows or extreme cold.[57] Three Amtrak trains were stranded overnight on January 6, approximately 80 miles (130 km) west of Chicago, near Mendota, Illinois, due to ice and snowdrifts on the tracks. The 500 passengers were loaded onto buses the next morning for the rest of the trip to Chicago.[58][59] Another Amtrak train was stuck near Kalamazoo, Michigan for 8 hours, while en route from Detroit to Chicago.[58] Chicago Metra commuter trains reported numerous accidents.[11] Detroit shut down its People Mover due to the low temperatures on January 7.[60]

Light snow in Tennessee
Between January 5 and 6, temperatures fell 50 °F (28 °C) in Middle Tennessee, dropping to a high of 9 °F (−13 °C) on Monday, January 6 in Nashville. During the cold wave, the strain on the power supply left 1,200 customers in Nashville without power, along with around 7,500 customers in Blount County.[38][61] The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency.[38]

24,000 residents lost power in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.[62]


A power failure in Newfoundland, late on January 5, left 190,000 customers without electricity. Most of the outages were restored by the following day.[63]

Air transportation was delayed out of airports in Montreal and Ottawa, as well as completely cancelled at Toronto Pearson International Airport, due to concerns about de-icing.[64][65] ExpressJet, a partner of United Airlines, cancelled its flights into and out of Winnipeg, stating that the combination of extreme low temperatures and ice crystals exceeded safe operating guidelines for their airplanes. However, other airlines continued flights into and out of Winnipeg, using the same kind of equipment.[66]


The severe cold causes high mortality among the emerald ash borer. The progressive loss of ash trees in North America due to this insect has probably been delayed by this deep freeze.[67]

Government response[edit]

The weather affected schools, roads, and public offices.[15]

United States[edit]

File:The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes.webm

‘The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes’, Video produced by The White House.[68]
In Minnesota, all public schools statewide were closed on January 6 by order of Governor Mark Dayton.[69] This had not been done in 17 years.[70]

In Indiana, more than fifty of the state’s ninety-two counties, including virtually everywhere north of Indianapolis, closed all roads to all traffic except emergency vehicles.[71]

In Michigan, the mayor of Lansing, Virg Bernero, issued a snow emergency prohibiting all non-essential travel as well as closing down non-essential government offices.[72]

In Wisconsin, schools in most (if not all) of the state were closed on January 6 as well as on January 7.[73] When the second cold wave emerged, schools were also closed on January 27 and 28.[74]

In Ohio, schools across the entire state were closed on January 6 and 7, including the state’s largest two school districts, Columbus City Schools and Cleveland Metropolitan School District.[75] The Ohio State University completely shut down on January 6 and 7, delaying the start of the spring semester by two days for the first closure on two consecutive days in 36 years.[76]


Schools in much of Southern Ontario and rural Manitoba were closed on both January 6 and 7 because of the combined threat of extreme cold, strong winds, and heavy snowfall. Outside the areas of heavy snowfall, schools remained open both days.[77]

Hamilton and Toronto issued Extreme Cold Weather Alerts and Ottawa issued a Frostbite Alert, which both open up additional shelter spaces for the homeless.[78][79]

In Quebec, all public services remained open, with the exception of tutoring and any other services requiring exterior relocation.[citation needed]

Possible role of anthropogenic climate change[edit]

Research on a possible connection between individual extreme weather events and long-term anthropogenic climate change is new and the topic of scientific debate.[80] Prior to the events of January 2014, several studies on the connection between extreme weather and the polar vortex were published suggesting a link between climate change and increasingly extreme temperatures experienced by mid-latitudes (e.g., central North America).[81] This phenomenon can be understood to result from the rapid melting of polar sea ice, which replaces white, reflective ice with dark, absorbent open water (i.e., the albedo of this region has decreased). As a result, the region has heated up faster than other parts of the globe. With the lack of a sufficient temperature difference between Arctic and southern regions to drive jet stream winds, the jet stream may have become weaker and more variable in its course, allowing cold air usually confined to the poles to reach further into the mid latitudes.[82][83][84][85]

This jet stream instability brings warm air north as well as cold air south. The patch of unusual cold over the eastern United States was matched by anomalies of mild winter temperatures across Greenland and much of the Arctic north of Canada,[86] and unusually warm conditions in Alaska.[87] A stationary high pressure ridge over the North Pacific Ocean kept California unusually warm and dry for the time of year, worsening ongoing drought conditions there.[88]

Research has led to a good documentation of the frequency and seasonality of sudden warmings: just over half of the winters since 1960 have experienced a major warming event in January or February”.[89] According to Charlton and Polvani[90] SSW in the Arctic has occurred during 60% of the winters since 1948 and 48% of these SSW events have led to the splitting of the polar vortex, leading to the same type of Arctic cold front that happened in January 2014.

A 2001 study found that “there is no apparent trend toward fewer extreme cold events on either continent over the 1948–99 period, although a long station history suggests that such events may have been more frequent in the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s.”[90] A 2009 MIT study found that such events are increasing and may be caused by the rapid loss of the Arctic ice pack.[91]

SSW events of similar magnitude occurred in 1985 in North America, and in 2009 and 2010 in Europe.

See also[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to 2014 North American polar vortex.
2013 North American cold wave


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v ·
t ·

Major snow events in the United States


1888 (Jan 12–13, Mar 11–14) ·
1899 (Feb 11–14) ·
1913 (Nov 6–11) ·
1920 (Mar 15–18) ·
1922 (Jan 27–28) ·
1940 (Nov 10–12) ·
1947 (Dec 25–26)


1950 (Nov 24–30)


1966 (Jan 27–31) ·
1967 (Jan 26–27) ·
1969 (Feb 8–10)


1975 (Jan 9–12) ·
1977 (Jan 28–Feb 1) ·
1978 (Jan 25–27, Feb 6–7) ·
1979 (Jan 13–14)


1991 (Oct 31–Nov 3) ·
1992 (Dec 10–12) ·
1993 (Mar 12–15) ·
1996 (Jan 6–10) ·
1997 (Mar 31–Apr 1, Oct 24–26) ·
1999 (Jan 2–4)


2000 (Jan 18–30) ·
2003 (Feb 14–19, Dec 6–7) ·
2005 (Jan 20–23) ·
2006 (Feb 11–13, Nov 28–Dec 1, Dec 20–29) ·
2007 (Feb 12–20) ·
2008 (Mar 6–10) ·
2009 (Dec 16–20, 22–28)


2010 (Feb 5–6, 9–10, 25–27, Oct 23–28, Dec 26–29) ·
2011 (Jan 31–Feb 2, Oct 28–Nov 1) ·
2012 (Oct 29–31, Dec 17–22, Dec 25–28) ·
2013 (Feb 7–20, Feb 19–Mar 6, Mar 1–18, Oct 3–5) ·
2014 (Jan 2–)



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