Polar Vortex Explained: How to Protect Your Home and Family

The term “Polar Vortex” has become popular over the past few years. A polar vortex may sound like a term straight out of a science fiction novel, but it’s a very real and formidable weather phenomenon with the potential to affect millions. Contrary to popular belief, the polar vortex is not a recent occurrence. It is a phenomenon that exists throughout the year and only sporadically affects the severity of winter weather in North America.

Essentially, it’s a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both Earth’s poles, which can expand and send a chill over larger areas. Most commonly, when we speak of the polar vortex in everyday conversation, we’re referring to those times when this cold weather swoops down into regions that are normally spared from the harshest winter temperatures.

Understanding what a polar vortex is and how it functions is key to preparing and protecting your home and loved ones from its icy grip.

Causes of a Polar Vortex

The formation of a polar vortex is closely tied to the contrasting temperatures between the equator and the poles. This temperature difference causes the jet stream to circulate in the northern hemisphere, operating as a barrier between the cold polar air and the warmer air of the south.

During winter, the polar vortex in the north pole can expand, causing frigid air to descend through the jet stream and reach us here in the U.S. Although the polar vortex is located high up in the atmosphere and is not directly responsible for snowstorms, it can sometimes bring about the bone-chilling cold that originates from the Arctic regions.

Effects of a Polar Vortex

The impact of a polar vortex can be severe and expensive. Besides a winter storm and making the walk to our mailboxes intolerable, how does the chilly air impact us and our residences? Well, extremely low temperatures can lead to issues like ice dams and frozen pipes. If left unaddressed, these problems can result in significant damage to your home.

Ice Dams

One of the most common issues that homeowners face during these cold spells is the formation of ice dams on their roofs. Ice dams occur when heat from the attic causes snow on the roof to melt. The water then trickles down to the edge of the roof, where it freezes due to the lower temperatures. This ice buildup can create dams that prevent subsequent snowmelt from draining off the roof, potentially leading to water infiltration and damage to both the roof and the interior of the home.

Frozen Pipes

Equally problematic are frozen pipes. When the temperature drops dramatically, water inside pipes can freeze, expanding and increasing pressure within. This can lead to burst pipes, resulting in water damage and costly repairs.

Both ice dams and frozen pipes highlight the importance of proper home insulation and the need for preemptive measures before the chill of a polar vortex sets in.

How to Prepare Your Home for Freezing Temperatures

As the temperature plummets and the threat of a polar vortex heads your way, it’s crucial to safeguard your home against the bitter cold. Taking proactive steps can not only protect your property but also provide peace of mind. The following are ways to keep your home and family safe before the cold weather hits.

  1. Stay Warm: Prioritize physical safety by having an ample supply of clothing and blankets in case the polar vortex affects the power grid. Ensure that your home heating system is functioning properly and consider investing in a backup generator. A space heater is another good option.
  2. Save Your Water: In the event of a power outage, ensure you have enough water for drinking, washing, and flushing. If a serious storm is on the way, consider storing several gallons of water per person and filling your bathtub with water for emergency use (remember to boil it before consuming).
  3. Stock Up on Food: Have a plentiful supply of healthy, nonperishable food that requires no cooking. Even if restaurants and stores are closed, you’ll be prepared.
  4. Keep the Outside of Your Home Clear: Clear snow and ice from your sidewalks, driveway, and car to ensure easy access during emergencies. Remember to run your car periodically.
  5. Protect Your Pipes: Prevent frozen pipes by keeping your faucets dripping to prevent freezing and open cabinet doors to allow warm air circulation around the pipes.
  6. Limit Outside Time: When the polar vortex hits, it’s best to avoid being outside if possible. However, if you must go out, be sure to dress appropriately and cover all exposed skin.
  7. Keep an Emergency Supply Kit: Have an emergency supply kit ready in case of power outages or other unforeseen issues. This kit should include essentials such as a flashlight, batteries, first aid supplies, canned food, and bottled water.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a polar vortex and how does it form?

A polar vortex is a large area of low-pressure and cold air surrounding the Earth’s poles. It forms due to the significant temperature difference between the equator and the poles, which in turn causes the jet stream to circulate air around the hemisphere. This circulation can act as a barrier that, when weakened during winter, may allow the cold polar air to spill southward into mid-latitude regions, such as the United States.

What steps can I take to prepare my home for freezing temperatures?

To prepare your home for freezing temperatures, you should:

  • Insulate windows and doors to keep heat in and cold out.
  • Have your heating system checked and serviced to ensure it is working efficiently.
  • Keep a trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through unheated or unprotected spaces.
  • Clear your gutters to prevent ice dams.
  • Seal any holes or cracks in your home’s exterior to prevent drafts and insulation loss.
  • Consider adding extra insulation to your attic to prevent heat from escaping and melting snow on the roof.

What damaging effects are created by a polar vortex?

The chilling effect of a polar vortex can cause substantial damage, including ice dams on roofs, which can lead to water infiltration and interior damage, and frozen pipes, which can burst and cause water damage. Additionally, extreme cold can result in hypothermia or frostbite in individuals exposed to the elements, stress on infrastructure, and higher heating costs.

How can I stay safe during extreme cold weather conditions?

To stay safe during extreme cold weather conditions:

  • Limit your time outside and dress in layers with a wind-resistant outer layer; cover all exposed skin to avoid frostbite.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your home and vehicle, including supplies like blankets, a first-aid kit, non-perishable food, water, and a battery-powered radio.
  • Stay informed about the weather forecast and heed advisories and warnings.
  • Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, and seek medical attention if you or someone you know is affected.
  • Use caution when using space heaters or fireplaces to ensure they are operating safely and properly ventilated. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never leave them unattended.
  • Check on elderly or vulnerable family, friends, and neighbors to ensure they are safe and warm.

Experiencing Damage from Cold Weather?

Experiencing a polar vortex is a challenge that demands preparation and awareness. By taking the necessary steps to protect our homes and families, you can mitigate the risks associated with these severe weather events. If you’re experiencing damage to your home from a polar vortex or other cold weather events, contact Jenkins Restorations to restore your property and restore your life.

Have You Recently Dealt With Damage from Cold Weather?

After a polar vortex or other cold weather events, make sure to call Jenkins Restorations to get your home – and your life – back to normal again.