Polar, Mars-like vortex could hit Canada soon

Polar, Mars-like vortex could hit Canada soon

A polar vortex generating the coldest temperature on Earth so far this year, can hit Canada in early February.

A pedestrian walks by River Landing on the South Saskatchewan River in Canada

A pedestrian walks by River Landing on the South Saskatchewan River during an extreme cold warning in Saskatoon, Sask., on Monday, January 25, 2021. Meteorologists say frigid weather caused by the polar vortex could be headed for Canada in February. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

“We’re showing a large area from all of British Columbia, all of the Prairies, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and right through to Northwestern Ontario as being colder than normal for the month of February,” David Phillips, Environment Canada’s chief meteorologist, told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I think that is a direct result of the diving down southward of the polar vortex.”

A weather station in Siberia recorded a temperature of -62.4 C on Jan. 14 as freezing arctic air loomed over northern Russia. For reference, that temperature is only 0.3 C from the average temperature on Mars; cold enough to freeze your skin in seconds. It’s the coldest temperature Russia has recorded over two decades.

Although the polar vortex is in the stratosphere, Doug Gillham, meteorologist at The Weather Network, said it often brings cold air down to the troposphere wherever it goes.

“It’s well up in the atmosphere, several kilometres up, but it’s associated generally with the coldest air in the hemisphere,” he told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “So down where we live, when the polar vortex gets displaced from the pole, it will often bring cold air with it.”

When could it reach Canada?

The entire vortex has shifted so that the bulk of it is hovering over northern Russia. It will likely begin to shift again around the end of January.

Canada weather map

“What we have right now is the biggest piece is over Siberia, and there’s been some record-breaking cold air associated with that,” he said.

Once the cold weather arrives in Canada in February, Gillham said it will be because shifts in the jet stream cause the polar vortex to dissipate and re-form over western Canada, replacing the warm air that’s settled over the country in recent weeks.

“We’ve had a powerful jet stream over the North Pacific and it’s just been flooding pretty much all of North America with mild air from the Pacific Ocean,” he said.

“The jet stream is going to change in a way that will stop flooding the continent with mild Pacific air, and we’ll start to see the Arctic air drain south. And so our winter vacation is coming to an end.”

According to The Weather Network, while Western Canada and the Prairies can expect a blast of cold weather soon, major cities across Eastern Canada are on track to see the warmest winter on record. The weather agency reports Halifax has experienced an average temperature of 1.5 C so far this winter.

For Southern Ontario and Quebec, Gillham said cold air from the northwest and warm air from the southeast could clash to create some volatile weather when the polar vortex shifts again.

“Being the battle zone means we’ll get a more active storm track, which means a lot of messy weather systems, the potential for heavy snow, but also the potential for ice and rain.”

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