Winter is coming: Polar vortex shift may change up N.C. winter weather

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Winter is coming, and a new study suggests a shift in the polar vortex will change up winter weather in eastern North Carolina.

The study, published in the journal Nature, finds that over the past several decades the polar vortex, a swirling mass of bitter cold air near the North Pole, is shifting away from North America.

“A combination of decreasing sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and an increased possibly of snow cover in Eurasia is sort of shifting the heat balance around the polar vortex,” said Scott Curtis, an East Carolina University atmospheric science professor.

The study also finds the vortex is weakening, which isn’t good news if you aren’t a fan of winter chill.

“Even though it’s shifting towards Eurasia, it is bending around towards North America,” Curtis said. “Occasionally that can create a lobe that slips further south and creates what we call a cold air outbreak, which generally can bring some very cold air to Canada and parts of the northern United States.”

These outbreaks are becoming most common late in the winter in February and March. Curtis is also concerned about a shift in storm tracks.

“A local impact could be Nor’easters, especially in that March season when you start to have these extratropical systems become important,” Curtis said. “And maybe you have some more of these Nor’easters move up in response to these shifting patterns of the polar vortex.”

High snow cover in Eurasia and low sea ice in the Arctic right now could mean another cold and stormy start to next spring

The study also found this shift in the polar vortex could explain the late winter season cold we’ve experienced here over the past few years.

It is unclear whether or not that will mean more snow.

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