July 14, 2014 at 7:05 AM ET
Oh, the dreaded "polar vortex" — cue the rush of memories of relentless cold and snow. Trust me, I remember that "polar vortex" all too well, not to mention all that footage of me wearing ridiculous winter coats.
Now while meteorologists aren't all in agreement that what we experienced this past winter was in fact the true heart of the polar vortex, we can all agree that it was unseasonably, unnaturally and unbearably cold across parts of the United States. The phrase has popped back into our lexicon recently because, once again, it's about to become unseasonably cold — and that cold is originating from our north. But let's be honest: It's July, so a polar vortex this is not. In fact, its origins aren't even from Siberia, like the true polar vortex, but instead from the Northeastern Pacific. Let's call it a “polar intrusion” if we need to call it anything at all.
So how did this blast of cool air we're expecting get touted as the next polar vortex? If you look at the atmospheric setup, they do look eerily similar. Granted, the color scale is adjusted for a totally different season, but side by side they both show cold air from up north pouring into the United States.
In both seasons, this atmospheric setup results in temperatures being about 10-30+ degrees below average. While using the phrase "polar vortex" in the middle of summer is pretty ludicrous, I think a lot of people understand the gist of what it represents: that significantly cooler air is about to replace the recent warm temperatures we've been experiencing.
It's a talking point because here we are, heading into what is typically the hottest part of the summer, and yet we're talking about highs in the 50s and 60s in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest and 70s to around 80 in the Midwest and Northeast. For some, that's welcome relief from the recent heat, but for others (think of those people taking a beach vacation), it's not very welcome and is kind of a nuisance — just like it was in January!
I've joked this past winter that a few days in the 40s will feel like a heat wave, so it's only fair to joke in the summer that will feel like the return of the polar vortex. But when it comes down to it, it's simply not identical to what we dealt with this past winter. No way, no how.
Still, if someone asks you what the weather will be this week and you tell them you heard the polar vortex is returning, they'll know it's going to be a little chillier than normal. It's kitschy, it's flashy, it's pop culture at this point — and it's also absurd and entirely inaccurate — but people get it and realize what it represents.
So let's work in that “polar intrusion” thing instead — it just makes more sense. And if you really want to impress your friends, tell them a ridge out west will force a trough in the jet stream to settle in over the north and northeast, allowing colder air to funnel in from Canada and drop temperatures to about 10-30 degrees below average. You also can tell them this: It shouldn't last more than a week.
Meteorologist Dylan Dreyer is the weather anchor on Weekend TODAY.