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  • 28 Jun 2019 GS Paper 1 Geography

    What is Polar Vortex? How a change in polar vortex strength impacts the regions surrounding it. (250 words)



    • Describe the phenomenon of Polar vortex.
    • Enlist and explain its impact.
    • Give conclusion providing possible linkage to Global warming.


    • A polar vortex is mass of cold, low-pressure air that consistently hovers over the Arctic. It’s called a “vortex” because it spins counterclockwise like a hurricane does.
    • 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, 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 northern Europe and Asia.

    • But when the polar vortex weakens, the once-trapped cold air can meander throughout the top of the Northern Hemisphere, bringing polar temperatures and extreme winter weather to lower latitudes.

    • A weak vortex means colder weather in the mid-latitudes, as lobes of the vortex start to move away from the Arctic region towards lower latitudes, exposing these areas, primarily Canada, US, Russia to extreme cold temperatures and accompanying storms.


    Impact of weakening of Polar vortex

    • Extreme cold temperatures: The pocket of cold air from the poles is displaced, forcing it southward and bringing extreme-cold temperatures to USA’s Northern Plains through the Midwest and even to Northeastern parts of the USA.
    • Extremely cold weather affects the flora and fauna of the region.
    • Hazardous conditions: Along with historically cold temperatures, affected areas receive heavy snowfall, which results in snow and ice build-up, as well as, reducing visibility along the roads resulting in many accidents and road closures. Frigid temperatures can pose serious safety problems for those living in extreme conditions.
    • Economic impact: The US economy took a $5 billion hit in recent weakening of polar vortex event. Because of the frigid weather, there is loss of productivity, higher energy consumption and a drop in consumer spending.
    • Cold weather in Northern India: The unusually cold weather in the hill states of North India and parts of the plains, including the national capital, has been indirectly caused by the Polar Vortex weakening which swept across large parts of the US and Canada that is pushing various weather systems downwards according to experts.


    • Although weakening of polar vortex is a well-documented, long-existing pattern, the recent event in the U.S. was less harsh compared with what used to happen during the winter. Scientists are looking at how warming temperatures will likely affect weather patterns like low-lying polar vortex winds.
    • One single weather event isn't enough to prove climate change, but taken over time, as the Arctic continues to warm, cold snaps to the south from the polar vortex could increase for some time.
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